Talking up threat is wrong in anybody’s language 

Posted By: June 25, 2021

By Denzil McDaniel. Impartial Reporter. Enniskillen. County Fermanagh, Friday, June 25, 2021.

Amid the shenanigans of the abrupt end to Edwin Poots leadership of the DUP, a Republican friend asked me this question: “What is the big fear of the Irish language?”

It seems a simple question, but answering it in simple terms is not so easy, even if one Nationalist commentator felt it was as straightforward as a “hatred for all things Irish”.

Irish language

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rev David Bruce spoke for many other Protestants on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence when he said the Irish language held no threat for him as a Presbyterian Minister.

“Quite the reverse,” said the man who has recited the Lord’s Prayer in Irish on RTE, and he pointed out that Presbyterians had been part of the rescue of the Irish language in the 18th century, ran Irish medium schools in the west of Ireland and were responsible for translating the Bible into Irish at that time.

Linda Ervine, rooted in an east Belfast loyalist community, is a lover of the language and has inspired many people coming to Irish classes. Back in time, the Unionist icon Sir Edward Carson may have given an incendiary speech at a Twelfth of July platform in 1920 about the invasion of Sinn Fein, but he was also a fluent Irish speaker and very much a proud Irishman.

We could go on about the importance of the language to Protestants, historically and now. But, as ever, once it enters the political realm it becomes a polemic.

As the Rev. Bruce says it is the symbolism of the language and of Gaelic culture being associated with Nationalism, sometimes with Republicanism, and a perceived antipathy to Unionism that has seen Irish language politicized.


So, despite the widespread acceptance of the Irish language in many Protestant quarters, it appeared to be the rock on which the good ship Poots smashed into smithereens. Ostensibly, at least; there were clearly many other internal factors.

The other issue exercising Unionists just now is, of course, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and here again, it is important to acknowledge symbolism. While much is made of the practical difficulties for business, behind the façade of the sausage war the real difficulty for Unionists is that there is a Border between them and the rest of the United Kingdom.

In this week of the anniversary of the opening of the new Northern Ireland parliament, and the year of the centenary of the setting up of the new state through partition, we were reminded again of the two pillars of the Unionist position in this age-old quarrel.


Firstly, keeping separate from the rest of Gaelic Catholic Ireland, often to the point of northern Protestant exceptionalism; and secondly, insisting that being British means retaining a physical and emotional bond with the “mainland.” Their feelings of Britishness remain undiminished even when faced with Britain’s duplicity, then and now.

This week, the media did a marvelous job in looking back at the visit by King George V to formally open the NI parliament sitting at Belfast City Hall, and numerous pieces have reminded us of the context of partition and many of the various ways in which life was affected by it. Whether it was pockets of Protestant communities suddenly waking up in a new Free State, or Catholics who felt equally isolated in a new northern state, we were reminded of how identity issues impacted society a hundred years ago and how they have transferred down through generations.

Fascinating as it was, it should be a salutary reminder of where we’ve come from and the damage it can cause if we don’t address those differences.


What the media didn’t do so well, I thought, was in some of the coverage of the circumstances of today. There has been much focus on the anger within loyalism, and particularly a platform has been given to the umbrella group, the Loyalist Communities Council who issued a statement saying that Irish Government Ministers were not welcome in Northern Ireland.

Considering this organization was set up to channel the views of loyalist paramilitary groups, the statement was chilling and sinister.

In a separate interview, but also at an anti-Protocol protest, came an extraordinary outburst from a respectable-looking woman from north Down whose refined accent seemed more at place at her prosperous Marks and Spencer food shop.

Hazel Officer said: “The other side has got everything they wanted by causing mayhem, fear and death. Maybe it’s about time we thought about doing the same. I’m certainly willing to give my life.”

The point is, Hazel, it’s unlikely that it will be your life that will be taken if we continue to hype up the threat by promoting a narrative that every move forward is a victory for “the other side”.

 Brazen entitlement

Aside from the brazen sense of entitlement that the LCC feels they can dictate who is or isn’t welcome here, there is the hypocrisy of loyalists feeling that they can go to Dublin to protest. Giving them a high-profile platform would seem not only to legitimize them but there is a danger of hyping up the threat.

Unionist concerns about the Protocol are legitimate, threatening to use it to return to loyalist violence to bring it (and the Good Friday Agreement) down is not.

Many of the voices being heard on our airwaves do not represent the vast majority of Unionists. So who does speak for Unionism? Because it’s important that that community is heard and Susan McKay’s new book ‘Northern Protestants, on Shifting Ground’ is an excellent account which often suggests to me that there is something of a disconnect between political Unionism and people on the ground.

Shrewd operator

At this interesting time in our history, the changes in leadership in Unionism are significant. Doug Beattie has made a good start, and after its Poots aberration, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will become the new DUP leader and probably First Minister.

Whether you agree with many of his policies or not, Donaldson is a shrewd and experienced political operator, a man who remains dignified in a crisis and is known to work with people behind the scenes.

Whatever the wider context of what happens to this island in a new Ireland, which is a debate gathering momentum, we are in the here and now which is important too. In his speech a hundred years ago, King George V was prescient in talking about people in Ireland working together.

In her closing speech as First Minister, Arlene Foster spoke about the need to share this place.

A shared society, with respect for each other’s language, culture, identity, rights, and acknowledgment of hurt and each other’s fears, remains the only way forward.

The Presbyterian Moderator, Rev Bruce points out that the gift of democracy is that we can have differences, articulate them with passion, but can “differ well” and “should be able to bear the weight of difference”.