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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK


Irish lessons 'to boost RUC image'

RUC hope to improve their image among nationalists by learning Irish

A decision by a number of RUC officers to study the Irish language to improve their image in the nationalist community has met with a sceptical response.

The editor of the Irish language newspaper, La(which means day), which first published the story, told BBC News Online that it would be churlish not to welcome the news that 145 members of the force are learning the language.

"It has to be pointed out that while we welcome new Irish speakers, the RUC is facing disbandment when the Patten Commission publishes its report in three months time so it may be too little, too late," claimed Eoghain O Neill.

He also pointed out that there were 13,000 officers in the RUC and that the numbers learning Irish represented only a small fraction of the force.

[ image: The RUC are facing the possiblity of disbandment when Patten Report is published]
The RUC are facing the possiblity of disbandment when Patten Report is published
This could be a significant proportion, however, of the police force which emerges after the Patten Commission report as it is widely expected that the policing requirement will be slashed in an environment less at risk from terrorist acts.

Unionists remain determined that the RUC will remain largely intact despite any recommendations from the Patten Commission, whose conclusions are not yet known.

In a statement, the force confirmed that 145 officers were attending in-house training which was intended to equip officers with basic conversational skills, especially focused upon policing duties.

"Aware of diverse cultures"

"We are acutely aware of the many diverse cultures which enrich our society and of the need to take appropriate steps to address any special needs that may exist."

There are approximately 142,000 Irish speakers in Northern Ireland according to the 1991 Census and Irish medium schools are being established throughout Northern Ireland with increasing frequency.

There were specific provisions in the Good Friday Agreement which sought to improve the level of spoken and written Irish within the public service. At present, arrangements are also being made for the establishment of a cross border body which will promote the language throughout Ireland.

This news comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the Royal Irish Regiment has scooped a top PR award for a media campaign which included soldiers learning more about the Irish language and the Orange Order.

The regiment, which is an amalgam of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment, and which has had a particularly poor image among nationalists, was awarded the Institute of Public Relations Sword of Excellence.

Among the other activities which the regiment organised under the project title, 'Attrition by Charm', were adventure weekends for the public, fund-raisers and a series of study evenings to learn about Gaelic culture.

It remains to be seen whether the RUC or the RIR will now take up the challenge of learning Ulster Scots, which is mainly spoken by Protestants who trace their heritage from their Scottish origins.

It was announced on Friday that the language is now recognised under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

Ulster Scots is also recognised under the Good Friday Agreement, but this latest acknowledgement is the most significant boost to campaigners who have been promoting the language in the face of considerable public scepticism.

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