Denzil McDaniel: Talking about threat is wrong in anyone’s tongue
Amid the shenanigans of the abrupt end of Edwin Poots’ leadership of the DUP, a Republican friend asked me this question: “What is the great fear of the Irish language?”
It sounds like a simple question, but answering it in layman’s terms is not that easy, even though one nationalist commentator felt it was as simple as “hate for everything Irish”.
The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Reverend David Bruce spoke for many other Protestants on Radio Ulster’s Sunday footage when he said the Irish language posed no threat to him as a Presbyterian minister .
“Quite the contrary,” said the man who recited the Lord’s Prayer in Irish on RTE, and he pointed out that Presbyterians were involved in the rescue of the Irish language in the 18th century, ran Irish language schools in the west of Ireland. and were responsible for translating the Bible into Irish at that time.
Linda Ervine, rooted in a loyalist community in east Belfast, is a lover of the language and has inspired many to come for Irish lessons. In the past, Unionist icon Sir Edward Carson may have given an inflammatory speech at a July 12 podium in 1920 about the invasion of Sinn Fein, but he was also fluent in Irish and was a proud Irishman.
We could continue on the importance of the language for Protestants, historically and today. But, as always, once it gets into politics it becomes controversial.
As Reverend Bruce says, it was the symbolism of the Gaelic language and culture associated with nationalism, sometimes with republicanism, and a perceived antipathy to unionism that saw the Irish language politicized.
So despite the widespread acceptance of the Irish language in many Protestant neighborhoods, it appears to be the rock on which the good ship Poots shattered into a thousand pieces. Ostensibly, at least; there were obviously many other internal factors.
The other issue that trade unionists face right now is, of course, the Northern Ireland Protocol, and again it’s important to recognize the symbolism. While there is a lot of talk about the practical difficulties of doing business, behind the facade of the sausage war, the real difficulty for Unionists is that there is a border between them and the rest of the UK.
In this week of the anniversary of the opening of the new parliament of Northern Ireland and the centenary of the establishment of the new state through partition, we were again reminded of the two pillars of the Unionist position in this quarrel.
First, to stay away from the rest of Gaelic Catholic Ireland, often until the Protestant exception in the north; and second, by emphasizing that being British means maintaining a physical and emotional connection with the “continent”. Their feelings of Britishness remain intact even in the face of the British duplicity of yesterday and today.
This week the media did a wonderful job looking back on King George V’s visit to officially open the NI Parliament at Belfast City Hall, and many articles reminded us of the background to the Partition and many ways in which life has been affected. Whether it was groups of Protestant communities suddenly waking up in a new free state, or Catholics who also felt isolated in a new northern state, it reminded us of how identity issues impacted society a hundred years ago and how they were passed down from generation to generation.
As fascinating as it is, it should be a salutary reminder of where we came from and the damage it can cause if we don’t address these differences.
What the media didn’t do so well, I thought, was in some of the coverage of the circumstances today. Emphasis was placed on the anger within loyalty, and in particular a platform was given to the umbrella group, the Loyalist Communities Council, which issued a statement saying that Irish government ministers were not welcome in Northern Ireland.
Considering that this organization was created to channel the views of loyalist paramilitary groups, the statement was frightening and sinister.
In a separate interview, but also during an anti-Protocol protest, an extraordinary explosion occurred from a respectable-looking North Down woman whose refined accent seemed more at home in her store in food prosperous Marks and Spencer.
Hazel Officer said: “The other party got everything they wanted by causing chaos, fear and death. Perhaps it is time we thought about doing the same. I am certainly ready to give my life.
The point is, Hazel, it’s unlikely that your life will be taken if we continue to exaggerate the threat by promoting a narrative that every step forward is a victory for “the other side.”
Along with the cheeky sentiment of entitlement that the LCC feels they can dictate who is welcome or not here, there is the hypocrisy of loyalists who think they can go to Dublin to protest. Giving them a high-level platform would not only seem to legitimize them, but there is a danger of exaggerating the threat.
Unionists’ concerns about the Protocol are legitimate, threatening to use it to revert to loyalist violence to bring it down (and the Good Friday Agreement) are not.
Many voices heard on our airwaves do not represent the vast majority of trade unionists. So who speaks for unionism? Because it is important that this community is heard and Susan McKay’s new book ‘Northern Protestants, on Shifting Ground’ is an excellent account that often suggests to me that there is some sort of disconnect between political unionism and people on the ground.
At this interesting time in our history, the leadership changes in unionism are significant. Doug Beattie is off to a good start, and after his Poots aberration, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will become the new DUP leader and possibly prime minister.
Whether or not you agree with many of his policies, Donaldson is a shrewd and experienced political operator, a man who remains dignified in times of crisis and is known for working with people behind the scenes.
Whatever the larger context of what is happening to this island in a new Ireland, which is a growing debate, we are in the here and now which is important too. In his speech a hundred years ago, King George V was far-sighted in speaking of the Irish working together.
In her closing speech as Premier, Arlene Foster spoke about the need to share this place.
A shared society, with respect for language, culture, identity, rights and recognition of each other’s wounds and fears, remains the only way forward.
Presbyterian Moderator Reverend Bruce emphasizes that the gift of democracy is that we can have differences, articulate them with passion, but we can “differ well” and “should be able to bear the weight of the difference”.