Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and member of the Stormont Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, has branded the recent launch of the Irish language ‘Liofa 2015’ project as “misguided”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also North Antrim UUP Chairman and Party Spokesman on Culture, was speaking after the Sinn Fein Minister for Culture Arts and Leisure launched the Irish Language initiative.
In a major party policy statement, Mr Swann (pictured) said: “Present at the launch were representatives from various walks of life.
“Some attended due to a genuine love of the language, but many attended because they, or the organisation they work for, were expected to be there.
“The Minister suggested that her agenda was driven by a desire to de-politicise the language and she certainly had a cross-section of people - some from unionist backgrounds - at her event.
“However, no-one should be under any illusion that it was her event and, therefore, a political event, and therein lies the difficulty.
“This initiative meets the wider Sinn Fein agenda of working towards the introduction of an Irish Language Act as agreed at St Andrews and helps to overcome a major deficiency in Sinn Fein’s current proposals.
“That deficiency was outlined by Pobal, the Irish Language support and lobby group, in its proposals for a future Irish Language Act. It demands rights far greater than those in existence even in the Republic of Ireland.
“Importantly, that report also states ‘one predictable ground of opposition to a comprehensive rights-approach in Northern Ireland would be the current inability of the system to produce competent Irish speakers with the requisite Irish language skills and professional accreditation’.
“The Pobal proposals recognise that the full implementation of a wide range of absolute rights to Irish-medium services may not be practicable in the current context.
“Liofa 2015 is designed to begin addressing the flaw in the Minister’s plans. Namely, if she was to introduce an Irish Language Act and it was to be passed by the Assembly, there would not be enough Irish Language speakers to implement it.
“Any Language Act would require statutory agencies to employ specific linguists to translate for staff, then begin the process of demanding that existing staff learn Irish or make an Irish Language qualification an essential criterion for those seeking employment.
“Such an agenda is not about promoting the development of the Irish Language, but about advancing the Sinn Fein agenda of changing the cultural identity of Northern Ireland via legislation.
“The Ulster Unionist Party supports the development of a strategy designed to respect and promote the development of all cultures which share Northern Ireland.
“Such development must be on the basis of mutual respect and a personal desire to learn and experience. We have many opportunities to promote cultural and language development which enhance our drive to develop a forward thinking, outward looking society.
“Irish culture and language can be a part of such a development, but so will Ulster-Scots, Chinese, Indian, Polish, Lithuanian, Filipino, and many others. This is the strategy which the Minister should bring forward,” said Assemblyman Swann.