“That’s just to show that I’m not a bigot” An interview about Irish with Cllr. Robin Stirling of the TUV
Recently I had the chance to speak to Robin Stirling, a councillor with the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) on Ballymena Borough Council, about his views on the Irish language. Councillor Stirling proposed a motion in the council at the start of the month condemning funding given by the British government to Irish language broadcasting in the North. The motion was passed after an amendment by the DUP, the three nationalists on the council, two SDLP and one SF, voted against it and the UUP abstained. We published the interview in Lá Nua last Friday but here is what he had to say. Councillor Stirling has two reasons for objecting to money being spent on Irish, one he believes it’s a waste because the the revival of the language is a ‘mission impossible,’ the second is the link he sees between the Irish language and Irish identity. He also gave some unprompted views on concerns he has about immigration to the Republic and the North at the end of the interview.
“I’m very fond of the South of Ireland but I’ve never heard Irish being spoken there, I’ve asked people in shops in Dublin if they spoke Irish and they said no and in fact one woman had very negative view of it due to her experiences in school. “The South had over 80 years to revive the language and has failed. “They had a clear field, there was no minority to oppose it, but it was a mission impossible, and there’s no point in wasting money on an impossible mission. “Why should we be funding a language that will never get off the ground? “I studied French and can understand a good bit of it but I’m not looking for public money to be spent on it.” Some have argued that Irish should receive support in Northern Ireland, the same as Welsh and Scottish Gaelic do from the British Government, and that Unionists are in fact adopting an anti-British approach in their opposition to Irish. Did Councillor Stirling agree Irish should be treated the same as indigenous languages in other parts of the UK? “That would presume that I agree with funding for those languages too,” he said. “I’ve holidayed in Wales on many occasions and I’ve never heard Welsh being spoken. “No one would argue that English is the main language of these islands and instead of spending money on other languages we should be making certain that people have a good level of English.” During the debate in Ballymena Council Councillor Stirling mentioned the famous “every word of Irish learned is like a bullet in the struggle for freedom” line said by someone in Sinn Féin in the early 1980s. I asked him did he himself believe that this ‘word-bullet’ theory was true but I couldn’t get an answer out of him, nor to the question of how exactly Unionists would be forced against their will into a United Ireland even if every Nationalist in Northern Ireland spoke Irish. (In hindsight I could have asked him about the British Army's own Royal Irish Regiment's Irish language motto but I probably wouldn't have gotten a straight answer to that either). When I asked him did he see a link between the Irish language and Irish identity his answer was “no doubt I do” and he also agreed that the language was a badge or symbol of Irishness and that this was part of the reason for his opposition to it. “I don’t see the Irish language in a vacuum, it’s part of an assault on the Unionist community. “Our attitude is that the Irish language is identified with the push for a United Ireland. “Unfortunately due to the capitulation of the DUP we will see our English, British culture supplanted by Irish culture which I find anathema.” I suggested that he was implying that British culture and English culture were the same thing but he didn’t answer that. I also suggested that Irish could be viewed as a part of British culture if Unionists wanted, as it was a native language of part of the UK. Councillor Stirling’s answer to this was that he disputed the fact that Irish is a native language of Northern Ireland. “It’s identified with those who used the bomb and bullet and with the Republic that gave refuge to those who used violence.” When I pointed out the fact that British opposition to the Irish language predates the Troubles and goes as far back as the Middle Ages, Councillor Stirling said that “we can’t analyse the past but it’s a fact that a nation that would conquer another nation would attempt to supplant the culture that was there before. “The thing people don’t understand is that we oppose a United Ireland because we feel we would be mistreated the same way as Protestants in the South were with draconian laws, I don’t believe the South is a democracy or has ever been a democracy, it’s been run by the people who came out of Maynooth. “If there had been a United Ireland there would have been an attempt to supplant the culture and religion of the community here.” He then asked me where I was from and when I told him I was from Dublin he said “if I were from Dublin I’d be tremendously worried about the influx of immigrants there. “If you bring in a sufficient number of people you dilute the culture that’s there already. “I’d prefer the purity of Irish nationalism or republicanism to what is coming. “I was in Connolly station recently and saw three coloureds smoking even though there was sign saying no smoking.” When I pointed out that many Irish people break no-smoking rules he said “I know if I was in another country I would obey the laws of that country.” He also said that “we’ve a terrible problem (in the North) with people from far off places driving cars without tax or insurance.” He then told me the reason he wanted to enlighten me about his views on immigration; “That’s just to show that I’m not a bigot.”