“Gaeilge and Ulster Scots or the Gulag” could be useful slogan

Posted By: July 17, 2017

Deaglan De Breadun. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, July 17, 2017

The dispute between Sinn Fein and the DUP over an Irish language act seems to have stymied the return of devolution, yet the language issue could still help to bring closer the restoration of cross-community government. Picture by Justin Kernoghan.
BEFORE the communist empire based in Moscow collapsed in ruins, there was a category of journalists and academics known as Sovietologists, who kept an eye on things for the enlightenment of people in the

capitalist world.

Until the Gorbachev era at least, it was very hard to divine the mindset and intentions of the Politburo, as the inner circle in Red Square was known, and the challenge for commentators on the outside was to assess the state of play and try to predict what would happen next.

The nearest thing to a Sovietologist in Ireland at present would be a ‘SinnFéinologist’. Or maybe a ‘GerryAdamsologist’ would be a better title.

The question, ‘What are the Shinners up to?’ is on many people’s minds, north and south of the border.

It’s a change from times past when the main focus was on the paramilitary wing of the movement.

Would the IRA declare a ceasefire/restore its broken ceasefire/back the Good Friday Agreement/decommission its arms?

If a generation of journalists such as myself had a penny for every word we wrote on these subjects, we would possess our own sun-drenched Pacific island and wonder, as we watched the dolphins frolic before us, how things were going back in the Four Green Fields of Ireland.

Veterans of the armed conflict can still be found in Sinn Féin ranks, but a new generation has come to the fore and politics is the order of the day.

The Armalite has been disposed of and the ballot box rules. Votes are the new Semtex and might turn out to have a more explosive effect in the long term.

The overall impression from talking and, more important, listening to senior Sinn Féin people is that there is a definite willingness to see the executive re-established provided Arlene Foster & Co make the requisite conciliatory gestures on issues such as the Irish language.

It won’t be a question of the Democratic Unionist Party adopting ‘Páirtí Daonlathach Uladh’ as its alternative title. Nor will Sammy Wilson be asked to change his name to Somhairle Mac Liam or Gregory Campbell become known as Gréagóir Mac Cathmhaoil; the party leader’s name is more challenging, but I’m working on it…

It seems likely Sinn Féin will settle for concessions such as the adoption of bilingual road signs on motorways and the appointment of an Irish language commissioner to promote the use of Gaeilge in the public sphere, as well as some other measures of a progressive but fairly modest nature.

Unionists won’t have to lie awake at night worrying that their children might be turned down for civil service jobs because of a lack of fluency in Irish – although it might be a good long-term strategy to enroll the kids in a class or send them to a summer school in the language.

Some of us who use Irish on a day-to-day basis have a slightly-cynical view of ‘People who will do everything for the language except speak it’.

But if the sweet and kindly tongue of the Gael, as it is sometimes called – even by Republicans – can contribute in some way to peace and cross-community solidarity, so much the better.

If a set of parallel gestures cannot be devised and agreed on Ulster Scots, then maybe the political parties on all sides should be packed off to prison camps in Siberia.

‘Gaeilge and Ulster Scots – or the Gulag’, based on the agency that ruled the prison camps in the days of Joseph Stalin, could be a useful slogan.

An alternative that might be even more frightening would be to make the two main parties sit in a room and listen to re-runs of all the TV and radio commentary about the Stormont talks stalemate, including the observations of the present writer – in Irish.

In an indirect but quite effective fashion, the language issue has helped bring closer the restoration of cross-community government.

By taking centre-stage, Irish has deflected attention from the unrealistic demand for Arlene Foster to step aside. When asked about that nowadays, Sinn Féin people engage in such nifty footwork as to make ballet legends Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fontaine look like clodhoppers in hobnail boots.

Even those who abhor the politics of Gerry Adams – and maybe other things about him as well – concede that he is a skilled politician.

He has the patience of Job and generally gets his way in the end. If the DUP can agree to a set of measures under which nobody loses face in any serious way, then Stormont could be humming with governmental activity by Christmas at the latest – but don’t bet your life savings on it.

If and when they all stop play-acting, they should develop a joint approach to the biggest issue of our time. Remember Brexit?