Foster remarks depressing
Posted By: February 07, 2017
Irish News Editorial.Belfast. Tuesday, February 7, 2017
WHEN the crisis provoked by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal brought the outgoing Assembly to a premature end last month, DUP leader Arlene Foster predicted that a “brutal election” lay ahead.
Until now, the campaign had been very restrained with the parties restricting themselves to low-key and largely predictable exchanges on the obvious themes.
However, Mrs. Foster plainly concluded yesterday that the political temperature needed to be raised immediately by launching a particularly outspoken attack on those associated with the Irish language sector.
She said that, as far as she was concerned, there would never be an Irish language act at Stormont and suggested that, in numerical terms, a much stronger case existed for legislation in support of Polish speakers.
The Polish community here is both highly respected and fast growing, but there are no indications that its members have any real interest in obtaining some form of judicial protection for their language.
Their overwhelming legal concern in the recent past has been hoping that the racist extremists who have regularly targeted Poles living in Loyalist [Unionist/Protestant] areas can be brought before the courts.
Most observers will have been left in no doubt that, rather than promoting Polish culture, Mrs. Foster was much more focused on the DUP’s familiar practice of going out of its way to insult Irish language enthusiasts.
Previous similar interventions by Gregory Campbell and Sammy Wilson might have been regarded as examples of buffoonery from fringe figures, but there was something profoundly depressing about the DUP leader heading down the same childish route with such enthusiasm.
It was striking that she could only associate Irish language issues with Sinn Féin when it is well known that all the main parties in the Dáil, as well as the SDLP and Alliance north of the border, have their own clearly defined policies in this regard.
The Irish language also belongs to all sides of our divided society, and many dedicated and well-informed speakers within the Protestant and Unionist tradition will have been totally dismayed by Mrs. Foster’s stance.
It would be difficult to imagine a more provocative remark from a senior politician than her attempt to dismiss any prospect of an Irish language act by saying; “If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more.”
The debate over the proposed legislation will remain on the agenda, and, like a range of other measures, will require careful and mature consideration during wider discussions.
It was hugely disappointing yesterday to find the DUP effectively turning its back on this process and instead of giving the firm impression that its simple priority is diverting attention from its role in the RHI debacle.