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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 12:40 GMT
Attack on '19th century' nationalism
Lord Elis-Thomas
Lord Elis-Thomas has angered campaigners
The Presiding Officer of the Welsh Assembly has criticised what he calls the "divisive" and anti-English feeling of "19th century nationalism reinvented".

His comments have reignited the debate over the future of Welsh-speaking communities and how to prevent their decline.

However the comments from Lord Elis-Thomas have met an angry response from Welsh language campaigners who accuse him of being out of touch with the people he represents.


Saying there is no such thing as Welsh speaking heartlands is akin to Margaret Thatcher saying there is no such thing as society

Cymuned spokesman
It is now thought that Lord Elis-Thomas could face a challenge as he seeks renomination as the Plaid candidate for the assembly seat of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, in north Wales.

In an interview with BBC Wales, Lord Elis-Thomas has claimed there is an anti-English feeling within Welsh language nationalism.

He believes that this sentiment could deepen tensions between Welsh speakers and non-Welsh speakers.

In the interview, Lord Elis-Thomas claims that there there is no such thing as Welsh-speaking heartlands and that the agenda of some organisations is wrong and divisive.

He has also said that some recent comments about the Plaid leadership by Welsh language campaigners are reprehensible.

Lord Elis-Thomas later clarified his comments by insisting he did not criticise any specific group or person but was expressing his own view in support of bilingualism for the whole of Wales.

Angry response

However, the campaign group Cymuned has responded with a scathing attack on Lord Elis-Thomas.

"For the Presiding Office of the Assembly to come out with such astonishing comments just beggars belief," said Simon Brooks, a founder of the group.

"Just as (former Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher said there is no such thing as society, we now have Dafydd Elis Thomas coming out and saying there's no such thing as community.

Simon Brooks, Cymuned
Simon Brooks says he's astonished
"I've never heard such post-modern right-wing nonsense in my life," he added.

"Dafydd Elis Thomas is committed to putting the creation of a Welsh nation state above the interests of one of Wales's two language communities.

"He's giving out a very strong signal that he doesn't believe in the concept of territorial Welsh-speaking communities where Welsh is the normal everyday language of ordinary people.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg - the Welsh Language Society - criticised the comments of Lord Elis-Thomas as being "less than constructive" coming several months after the debate was sparked off by Plaid Cymru councillor Seimon Glyn.

Seimon Glyn
Seimon Glyn said English was a 'foreign language'
Sian Howys, principal organiser for Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society), said she was disappointed but not surprised by the comments of Lord Elis-Thomas.

She criticised him for returning to the "sniping" of the summer instead of coming up with constructive ideas to prevent the disintegration of Welsh-speaking communities..

"We should be creating a bilingual Wales. But there's a great deal of concern within Wales that we're not seeing the leadership we should see from the Assembly on the Welsh language," she said.

Nomination challenge

Early next year, Lord Elis-Thomas will have to seek re-nomination as the Plaid Cymru candidate for the Assembly seat of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy.

Last night, in the wake of his comments, Cymuned members were furious and there was talk of challenging Lord Elis-Thomas for that nomination.

A statement from Plaid Cymru stressed that Lord Elis-Thomas had been speaking in a personal capacity.

Earlier in December, former Labour Welsh Secretary Lord Morris of Aberavon added to the row over rural Welsh-speaking communities.

In a speech in Pontypridd, south Wales, Lord Morris complained of rural areas becoming "swamped by economic migrants".

The Labour peer called on the assembly to set up an independent inquiry into the position of the Welsh language.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Wales's Rhys Evans
"His intervention is all the more extraordinary given his position"
Simon Brooks of Cymuned
"This is an attack on his own constituents ... it just beggars belief"
Sian Howys of the Welsh Language Society
"We're not seeing the leadership we should see from the Assembly"
See also:

06 Dec 01 | Wales
Labour peer enters language row
10 Aug 01 | Wales
Language protests at Eisteddfod
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