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The Crooked Mouth: Gregory Campbell and the DUP's Outdated War on Irish

27/11/2014 14:42 GMT | Updated 26/01/2015 10:59 GMT

You have to hand it to the DUP's Gregory Campbell; he certainly lives up to his own Gaelic surname: Caimbeul, [a] Crooked Mouth.

When he first uttered the words "Curry my Yogurt, Can Coca-Colayer" in Stormont, I must admit that I sniggered. For a man who has little-to-no Irish, it was actually quite novel to attempt the Irish phrase ("Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle", meaning 'Thank you, Mr Speaker') using English-ish words. Isolated from its context, the attempt for a Unionist politician to speak Irish in government would've been quite admirable.

Of course, the context in which he said it made it poisonous instead, and Northern Ireland's Culture Minister, Caral Ní Chuilín, was right in her reaction to the comments he made from across the room. Campbell's subsequent explanations of his actions on BBC Radio Ulster were so flawed, of course, that one could see right through them. First it was in jest, then apparently it wasn't, then it was a gesture of protest - all claims made within the same interview. Despite knowing he would have to explain himself on live radio, he wasn't able to get his story straight.

He did have a point, however, about Sinn Féin's use of the language - starting and ending their speeches in Irish - as being tokenistic. Sadly, that custom is true of almost all of the party's politicians, whether in Northern Ireland or "down south" in the Republic. Most, if not all, of those same politicians would be unable to conduct a decent conversation in Irish, and therefore one must ask: If you're not fluent in a language, why make your (little) use of it ritualistic? There's no harm in it, sure, but does the symbolism behind Sinn Féin's linguistic custom do more harm to Irish-speakers than good?

Regardless, Sinn Féin's use of Irish doesn't excuse Campbell from referring to a proposed Irish Language Act, an act that was promised in the Good Friday and St. Andrew's Agreements, as "toilet paper" at the party's recent conference. No other part of the United Kingdom ignores native or regional language or culture as much as in Northern Ireland. Welsh is strong in Wales, Gaelic is protected by Holyrood (although its future is debatable) and even Cornish is protected by the European Charter for Regional & Minority Languages, ratified by the UK Government. Therefore, any argument that an Irish language act were to disrupt or threaten 'Britishness' in Northern Ireland is nonsensical, as the unionist Irish-language campaigner, Linda Irvine, has regularly mentioned herself. In spite of what the DUP thinks the Unionist community want to hear, it's becoming clearer that it's not just Irvine, but many other Unionist voters who are getting sick of the DUP's attacks on the Irish language, its speakers and the legislation that was promised years ago.

Sadly, if the DUP's recent conference in Belfast was anything to go by, it's not just Campbell who has horrid, backward and ironically un-British views of the world around them. Gregory seems to think the Irish language belongs only to Sinn Féin supporters, ignoring the resurgence in ordinary Unionists learning the language. The DUP leader, Peter Robinson, thinks that only the Alliance Party and/or Sinn Féin voters will be in support of marriage equality. Wrong again, as the party has regularly let down thousands of LGBT unionists, alongside allies, who support the idea of bringing Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK on the issue. Of course, let us not even touch the topic of abortion in this article, a topic which apparently is still taboo across the entire Emerald Isle.

Sinn Féin's Danny Morrison once said: "every word spoken in Irish is another bullet in the freedom struggle'' in Northern Ireland. I'd strongly disagree with such a statement, but instead, I'd like to make a new version: Every time the DUP say "Never", as Campbell said about an Irish Language Act, the party's chances of bearing a future generation weaken. For so many issues of the day, the DUP - a party which has turned local British patriotism into toxic hyperbole - is totally unaware of the progress Britain has made in recent years.

Soon, maybe, the DUP could stand for an Irish acronym: Deireadh Útamáil Pholaitúil - the End of Political Time-Wasting.