State Papers

British government attempted to depoliticise Irish language in 1990

A pro-Irish language act protest at Parliament Buildings earlier this year. Picture by Mal McCann
Michael McHugh, Press Association

The British government was attempting to depoliticise the Irish language in 1990, official records show.

A report discussed among civil servants suggested a "quiet but progressive" approach had succeeded in developing the tongue while avoiding negativism and divisiveness.

An official from the Northern Ireland Office summarised the conclusions in files released by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), decades before the Irish Language Act became a key sticking point in the current negotiations to restore Stormont power-sharing.

He wrote: "It was necessary to underline that the British Government were not and would not be working towards bilingualism.

"Great strides had been made in assisting the development of the Irish language and while the pace of progress might not suit everyone it had to be recognised that the British Government had done a great deal.

"The British Government were well aware of the need to depoliticise the Irish language ... those who doubted the British Government's commitment and work in this area should contrast the position with that which was obtained 10 years ago.

"The quiet but progressive approach which had been adhered to during that period had succeeded in developing the Irish language while avoiding negativism and divisiveness."

A Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights had said the government was good at implementing "soft" recommendations like social and environmental but very poor in accepting hard recommendations like law and order, security and human rights.

Meanwhile, the files also revealed that officials considered using military helicopters to convey emergency patients to hospital as early as 1990.

RAF and Naval helicopters were assessed for deployment in civilian situations.

At that time the use of the aircraft for non-military medical missions had not been tried before and the security situation then was difficult.

A report released by PRONI raised the issue of landing zones.

This was seen as a complicating factor since helicopters were seen as a valid target for attack.

Fire hazards and the danger of civilians walking into the tail rotor were also considered.

In the present day military helicopters are routinely used in rescues and Northern Ireland has established an air ambulance base at the Maze/Long Kesh former prison near Belfast.

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State Papers

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