Arlene does a Paisley

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by Jude Collins (judecollins.com)

Arlene Foster has dipped deep into her political bag of tricks and produced a very old, tried-and-trusted Paisley technique.

Readers who remember the Big Man at his roaring, rampaging peak will remember how he liked to warn ‘Ulster’ that the civil rights movement was a front for a united Ireland in which the population would live lives steeped in poverty and their thoughts controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, aka the Whore of Babylon. The fact that the civil rights movement was nothing of the sort didn’t enter into it. The trick was to paint a wall of horrors and then tell the horrified “Trust me - I’ll save you from all that.”

Arlene, of course, has up-dated the technique. There are no warning of unionists being priest-ridden and steeped in poverty. Her warning is of the dangers accompanying an Irish language act. Yesterday, re-affirming her stand against any such Irish language act, she declared: “People aren’t going to be forced to learn Irish, there isn’t going to be Irish compulsory in schools, there’s not going to be bilingual signs or quotas in the civil service”.

Why? Because Arlene and her party will protect unionists from these horrors. The fact that no one has suggested that an Irish language act would force anyone to learn Irish, that Irish would be compulsory in schools or that there’d be quotas in the civil service, counts for nothing. As to “bilingual signs’ - Arlene will have to get out more. Throughout the north, there are already bilingual signs where the people of the area have agreed to them. Otherwise not. Still - nothing like a painted devil to put the frighteners on your populace.

But why all this fuss over Irish? You don’t use it every day, do you? OK, a small percentage of people may but most of us, no. Then isn’t it hypocritical to be making a fuss about a language you don’t or can’t speak yourself?

A moment’s thought puts a barrack-buster through that argument. You don’t have to be black or Chinese or Romanian or Syrian to be concerned that the rights of such minority groups are protected. Only a very dull-witted donkey would bray “It doesn’t affect me, so I don’t care”.

The Irish language is a treasure of inestimable worth. The Mona Lisa hasn’t been seen by the majority of people, and many of those who’ve seen it probably haven’t appreciated the genius of the painter. But if someone suggested “Most of us don’t care about this piece of daubed canvas, let’s stop wasting time on it and chuck it in the waste tip”, we’d be rightly horrified.

But thanks to Arlene and her crocodile, not forgetting the smiling Paul Givan who pulled the plug on Gaeltacht bursaries for children, the notion of an Acht na Gaeilge has now become not just a cultural right but a political right. As Eamon Mallie correctly notes in today’s Irish Times, an Irish Language Act has become the political 11+ test that’s been set for unionist politicians. If they fail it - and it looks very much as though they may - nationalists and republicans north AND south will see the stone-age thinking that dominates unionist thought.

Nationalists and republicans will then have a choice: bend your head and learn to live without the rights that exist in other parts of the UK, learn to live with the fact that written agreements don’t need to be delivered on. That, or make sure that Dublin, Westminster and the world know the nature of this tormented thing called unionism. Oh, and next election, nationalists and republicans could send the DUP a message calculated to give them a taom croi polaitiochta (good guess, Virginia - a political heart-attack).

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