From A Northern Whig (name and address supplied)
I read with interest the advice document prepared by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) on the Ulster Scots/Ulster British Provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, (Stormont House Agreement) referred to in recent articles in this paper related to Ulster-Scots Language Week.
In particular the section ‘Ulster British tradition’ dealing with the proposal to have a Commissioner for Ulster-Scots and Ulster British and the concern raised that conflating the two terms might have 'unintended consequences'.
Though the NIHRC shares no details about what these ‘unintended consequences’ might be, I can foresee another 'unintended consequence', that I, unlike the NIHRC, am quite happy to share.
In the section of the document dealing with the Ulster-Scots ‘national minority’ the NIHRC endorses the Framework Convention principle of ‘self identification’, which is quite right, but also contains the potential for an ‘unintended consequence'.
There are people who self identify as Ulster-Scots, (commonly found on social media), for what only can be described as reasons of pure rascality, redefining Irish narratives into Ulster-Scots to pick sectarian fights and undercut Protestant and Unionist leaning cultural and historical narratives not to their liking.
Often it’s hard to see any motivation but bullying and intolerance.
To raise concerns about Ulster British, yet endorse the principle of ‘self identification’ for an Ulster-Scots ‘national minority’ without a caveat or addendum in sight, seems naïve and superficial.
There is absolutely no need for an Ulster-Scots 'national minority' protection that does not have at it’s core the protection of a person's right to express narratives linked to Protestant and British senses of collective identity, in a safe space, endorsed by the state and international organisations and bodies.
This should be a haven from the prejudice and iconoclasm, so common, not only on social media but in the press and sometimes in academic papers as well.
Irish narratives related to Ulster-Scots are not under the same duress, being accepted by majority communities on the island - a verse from the United Irishman and Ulster-Scot James Orr, is on the Irish passport.
It should also serve as a signal to those considering intolerance that the Human Rights community has this multi-faceted Irish minority’s back, with a rounded view, integrating both British and Irish aspects of Ulster-Scots identity being encouraged.
Sadly the implicit subversion of any uniquely Protestant denominational possession of any future Ulster-Scots ‘national minority’ continues throughout the ‘Ulster British tradition’ section by constant references to the self- evidently cross community nature of Ulster-Scots language.
Yet the Chief Executive of the NIHRC acknowledged a link to religious denominations in his Chronicle interview?
To describe Ulster British is a 'distinct political identity' as in Section 2.13, apes the language commonly found in political nationalism.
Even a slight generosity of meaning could allow that the 42% of the population in NI professing to be British in the 2011 census could be called Ulster British and in a great variety of ways, not just political, eg historic, civic, patriotic etc.
Why define Ulster British through the lens of those who will be potentially alienated?
Irish language signs, when they go up, will not be for those who are peeved, but for those who appreciate them.
What happened to the Human Rights principle “there is no right not to be offended.”
If British remains a ‘fraught’ term, for historical reasons, surely, with minority protections required on the island in the years to come, celebrating that, not hiding it away in the so called ‘ Office of Identity and Cultural Expression’ is more desirable.
It seems that the NIHRC has the political and cultural template of historical Protestant domination in their vision, not the future one that will almost certainly involve a united Ireland in the not too distant future. I would be interested in hearing their reaction to this.
*The Chronicle sent this letter to the NIHRC, but they declined to comment.