Brian Feeney: Arlene Foster's Irish Language gesture too little too late - The Irish News
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Brian Feeney: Arlene Foster's Irish Language gesture too little too late

As ever with Foster it's too little too late

It's not a U-turn - yet - but it's a beginning, brakes on, wheels turning.

Last Wednesday as the latest aimless round of talks failed Arlene Foster announced grandly: "I do intend to listen and to engage with those from the Gaelic/Irish background, those without party political baggage or indeed demands, people who genuinely love the Irish language and don't want to use it as a political weapon."

As ever with Foster it's too little too late. She has a tin ear for gestures of reconciliation, graceless, charmless, sounding as if she's been dragged to the point, which she has, of accepting Irish speakers have a point.

Her opening remarks indicated how far she has to go, how blinkered and small-minded her world view is.

She said, "we do want to respect and indeed better understand the language and culture which we are not a part of".

She's so one-dimensional she may not even know this is piffle.

"Not a part of"? Her family name is Ó Ceallaigh or was, until some English tax collector or census taker in the past changed it to something easier for an English person to pronounce.

Every time this woman says Inis Ceithleann, which must be at least a couple of times a week, she's speaking Irish though she'd spell it Enniskillen. What does she think Ballygawley in the roundabout she negotiates every week is? Swahili?

Let's nail the lie that the pressure for an Irish language Act is only got up by Sinn Féin as something to embarrass and discomfit unionists.

It's the same nonsense that everybody loved Orange marches until Sinn Féin objected to them. Look, Orange marches caused violence since the execrable organisation emerged in 1795.

It was an Orange march in 1813 trying to get into the tiny Catholic enclave near where the Hercules Bar is now that caused the first riot in Belfast. The marchers fired shots killing a Protestant. Cavalry had to be deployed in Portadown in the 1820s to beat back Orange marchers from the Catholic quarter.

The Parades and Processions Act 1850 banned all Orange marches 55 years before Sinn Féin was founded.

It's a similar story with Irish. English governments tried to abolish Irish.

Sinn Féin members dressed as crocodiles protest at Arlene Foster's remarks in February. Picture by Hugh Russell

They set out to create what Irish writers called `Sacsa nua darb ainm Éire' (a new England called Ireland).

They nearly succeeded. By the end of the nineteenth century it was illegal to display Irish in print in public. Pearse's only case as a barrister was to defend (unsuccessfully) Niall Mac Giolla Brighde from Creeslough who had painted his name on his cart.

It wasn't Sinn Féin but the Irish Ireland movement which overturned this policy, organised feiseanna, opened schools and reinstated Irish at university level by 1908.

After 1921 unionists tried to resurrect the policy but going further tried to expunge any evidence that a person place or thing called Irish ever existed in the north so that a Martian visitor would never know there was such a thing.

Street names could not be "in a language other than English".

Unionist clerks insisted names on birth certificates be changed from Seán to John, and Séamus to James. Proinsias usually baffled them. As for Seathrún, well…that was beyond them.

Now it's all over not because of Sinn Féin conspiracy but because unionist legislation delegitimising Irishness was abolished.

Just like the first decade of the last century. In the 1901 census there were no Sinéads but 69 in 1911. One Síobhan in 1901, 155 in 1911.

Nowadays they're in their thousands. Even English people call their children Siobhan minus the fada.

Arlene Foster has belatedly begun to educate herself. Unfortunately she still thinks with her characteristic folie de grandeur that it's in her gift to decide what in her magnificence she will vouchsafe to the Irish language groups.

She imagines she will meet them and listen (but not hear you note) and then decide what they should have.

The notion that Irish speakers are entitled to anything still remains beyond her grasp.

Remember in February she bizarrely equated them with Polish speakers who come here to a foreign country?

Then of course in the unionist mindset Ireland is a foreign country which they're `not part of'.

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