Ifta winner John Connors spurns BBC over language issue

Actor says he was ‘disgusted’ by presenter Stephen Nolan’s ‘mockery’ of Irish language

Actor and film-maker John Connors: “A BBC presenter should be trying to bring people together, trying to mediate.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

Actor and film-maker John Connors: “A BBC presenter should be trying to bring people together, trying to mediate.” Photograph: Dave Meehan

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Actor John Connors turned down an appearance on BBC television as he was “disgusted” at the presenter’s attitude to the Irish language.

He was invited, via a tweet from a researcher on BBC Northern Ireland’s Nolan Live, to appear this week following his speech at the Irish Film and Television Awards (Ifta) last week.

Mr Connors was named best actor for his role in Cardboard Gangsters at the award ceremony. His speech, which has been watched online over 1 million times, referred to barriers faced by Travellers in the film industry, as well as his own mental health.

In his tweeted response to the BBC invitation, Mr Connors said: “Thanks for getting in touch . . . but I will forever boycott that show because of Stephen’s disgusting mockery of the Irish language, the native language of the whole island of Ireland. ”

He told The Irish Times he was “disgusted” at the treatment by the show’s host, Stephen Nolan, of former Sinn Féin Belfast City councillor (now Senator) Niall Ó Donnghaile, in a discussion on the language.

Widespread criticism

During the exchange, broadcast in November 2014, Mr Nolan repeatedly quotes Democratic Unionist Party MLA Gregory Campbell, who had received widespread criticism for appearing to mock the Irish language at Stormont a few days earlier. Responding to an invitation to speak, Mr Campbell said: “Curry my yoghurt can coca coalyer.” In Irish, the phrase “Go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” means “Thank you, chairperson”.

Mr Nolan repeated the phrase “Curry my yoghurt” a number of times, asking Mr Ó Donnghaile if it was a “wee bit funny” or whether he had had a “wee chuckle”.

The clip has re-emerged in recent weeks in light of the ongoing row between the DUP and Sinn Féin over an Irish language Act.

Mr Connors said he thought “a BBC presenter should be trying to bring people together, trying to mediate. Instead he seemed to be talking for the DUP. I thought the way he kept persisting with it, I thought it was horrendous and disgusting.”

A spokesman for BBC Northern Ireland said: “We don’t accept the suggestion that the BBC is anything other than respectful in its treatment of language and cultural traditions.”

Separately Mr Connors has been “blown away” by the response to his Iftas speech, during which he said he had been unable to get an agent, and that “no film director or casting agent will look past the fact that I am a Traveller”.

Seven years ago he had been contemplating suicide, when his brother Joe suggested he focus his energies on acting.

“I remember coming out of my first class in the Abbey school of acting and it was like I was walking on a cloud. I had just discovered something, this world I never knew existed, called creativity and it saved my life . . . I think creativity can really be a component to heal people.”

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