On Friday night, it started. My Facebook and Twitter feeds turned red as a defiant sense of solidarity shone from the screen. Some people wondered what this new yet still familiar symbol filling up their screens meant – it means that Irish speakers have decided it’s time for a change in the conversation.
Describing itself as an “open network of Irish language activists from all corners and backgrounds,” An Dream Dearg is a group who have come together to voice their disgust and outrage at the treatment of the Irish language and the denial of the rights of Irish speakers. Using the widely recognised symbol, the fáinne, and the colour to show their anger, social media reflected what has been felt in the Irish language community for a long time. Enough is enough and it is time for change.
I’m not sure if it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, it’s more likely that this was inevitable given how the language has been treated over the past number of years, but when Minister for Communities Paul Givan announced the aburpt end of the Líofa Gaeltacht Scholarship Scheme an invisible line had been crossed. The scheme had an annual cost of £50,000, a tiny amount in the Minister’s budget, was a means tested programme which assisted children from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend summer Gaeltacht courses. I could fill many articles discussing the benefits of the scheme, the importance of social education or the wonderful memories of the Gaeltacht that I and thousands of others have from our young lives, but suffice to say that this was a very worthwhile scheme with a positive impact on disadvantaged young people’s lives.
As disgusting an act as the withdrawel of this fudning was, it’s simply a drop in the ocean of DUP sabatoge towards the Irish language. The DUP has never made any secret of its hatred of the Irish language, with Nelson McCausland’s incoherent ramblings in his newspaper columns, Greogorty Campbells publicity stunts in the Assembly and the committment to fight against the growth of Irish-medium education. This, in addition to the refusal to adopt an Irish language strategy or to introduce and Irish Language Bill in spite of previous committements all show that the Irish language community, and the community in general, are not dealing with reasonable people when it comes to their treatment of minority rights. Their actions are saddening and angering, but no longer even nearly surprising.
In 2015 a consultation was carried out on an Irish Language Bill. This result of this consultation was overwhelmingly in support of the implementation of an Act, with 95% of over 13,000 respondents agreeing that there should be protective legislation for the language. Minoirty language rights have been protected in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales for many years, and it is something which is done right across the globe. The introduction of an Irish Language Act was guarenteed in the St. Andrew’s Agreement in 2006, meaning that the Act itself should never have been in question, only the extent of its contents. However, like many other questions surrounding minority rights, the conversations during the consultation process started in an unusual place. Rather than the media and some politicians focusing on the detail of what should be included in such an Act, the question was still asked whether there should be an Act at all, an argument which had been settled ten years before.
An Dream Dearg has come together to show the strength of the Irish language community and to take action to ensure that the committments that have been made are fulfilled and that language rights are respected and protected. The group asks for nothing which hasn’t already been agreed to. In fact, the failures to make the changes that An Dream Dearg is demanding have been consistently and repeatedly criticised by international monitoring bodies. As on so many issues, the prortection of minority language rights in the north are an embarrassment.
In many ways, An Dream Dearg isn’t just about the language. It’s about the recognition of rights, a refusal to accept bigotry and sectarianism in our political institutions and overwhelmingly the agreement that the status quo is no longer acceptable. There are many other examples of minorities having their rights trampled on for the simple reason that they are different to the DUP and their narrow outlook on life. LGBT groups, ethnic minorities, religious groups and women have all been ostricised, belittled and prejudiced against by the DUP and its policies.
During the referndum on equal marriage in the south, thousands of those who had previously felt that the question of equal marriage did not relate to them because they didn’t see how it impacted their own lives. During the weeks that led up to the debate the country heard stories of why this issue mattered so much and why change was not only desirable, but necessary. A minority whose rights are being denied needs more than the help of its own community. The fact that they are a minorty means that it is harder for them to have their voices heard and that those with an agenda to deny those rights can shout all the louder with the priveleged position they hold.
Already, many politicians have shown their support for An Dream Dearg online from rights across the political spectrum. I would encourage everyone to show their support to An Dream Dearg, both online and offline to ensure that words are followed by actions and promises followed by change. Language rights are human rights, and human rights affect us all.
“We are an Dream Dearg, you are an Dream Dearg. Anyone who believes in rights, respect and recognition for all is An Dream Dearg.”
You can follow An Dream Dearg on Facebook or ón Twitter @DreamDearg