Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Obstacles and Innovation

The BBC reports that Caitríona Ruane has earmarked an extra £2 million for Irish-language schools in the North. The news will serve to confirm a) that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is becoming increasingly less important when it comes to funding the language and thus regarding Irish-language policy as a whole and b) that control of a single Department is of limited use if the intention is to prevent funds getting to Irish-language projects entirely. Indeed, any DUP "successes" in that regard seem only to encourage pragmatic interventions from Westminster.

Interestingly, the report states that "The schools cannot get capital funds direct from the department as they have not reached a target number of pupils." Instead, they will benefit in the form of grants administered by Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta.

In future, we may see increasingly innovative approaches to circumventing the DUP veto. Indeed, it may only be a matter of time until those Departments with Nationalist Ministers, or perhaps only Sinn Féin ones, produce a corporate attempt to making the provisions of an Irish language Act a reality, even when the Act itself is still far away.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Agency Outgoings

On 11 February officials from the Ulster-Scots Agency gave evidence before the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure at the Northern Ireland Assembly. A number of interesting points emerged from the session:

The agency's 2010 budget foresees £1.76 million being spent on "outward-facing work" against £1 million being spent in "staff and running costs", meaning that 36% of its total income will be going on the latter.

It is not clear under which heading the more than £2,500 spent on branded Santa hats for rugby supporters at Ravenhill would come.

However, by way of comparison, a 2005 report in the Guardian stated that for charities "Administration costs tend to be around 15%".

The officials also confirmed that the agency's new offices in the old Donaldson & Lyttle shop on the corner of Great Victoria Street and Bruce Street cost £95,000 for three floors, plus rates, though the agency occupies only one floor.

John Hunter, the interim agency chairman, stated:

"The ground floor provides the opportunity to establish a visitor and welcome centre. Budgetary pressures have prevented us from opening the ground floor for such a purpose, and, in the context of the current budgetary pressures, we cannot see it happening in 2010 either. We use the ground floor for events."

He continued:

"The rental costs are £95,000 for the three floors: £25,000 for the ground floor; £48,000 for the first floor; and £22,000 for the second floor."

Monday, 8 March 2010

Ulster-Scots Academy

Observers of Ulster-Scots politics at Stormont will have been interested to hear Nelson McCausland's latest statement, in which he reaffirmed his official commitment to one of the more controversial proposals to promote Ulster Scots:

"[...] in addition to the broadcast fund and the strategy, work is ongoing in relation to the Ulster-Scots Academy, which will unlock £11 million that remains there at present. That will be taken forward in a very inclusive way. I am about to sign off on a process to recruit a director, and we are also in the process of appointing an interim board to take that work forward."

The DUP wishes to ramp up official backing for the dialect in order to allow spending on it to reach a level equal to that afforded to Irish — or, as cynics suggest, as an expedient to swallow money that would otherwise go on the latter's promotion. Needless to say, neither scenario is based on the needs of Irish or Ulster Scots as speech varieties; rather they reflect roles foisted on them as avatars of their imagined communities and recipients of "esteem".

The fact that it is not in the interests of Ulster Scots to be codified separately from Scots in Scotland is apparently neither here nor there, since the decision is political rather than linguistic. However, at that political level too, there is surely opposition. Even before the current fiscal squeeze it was clear that the settled will of ordinary Unionist voters was against any official communicative use of Ulster Scots along the lines shown in the above photograph; the strength of feeling may even be greater than Unionist opposition to Irish. How can Mr. McCausland escape the negative comment, not to say ridicule, that backing an academy might attract?

Perhaps he has simply calculated that he is unlikely to be asked to see the scheme through to fruition. After all, the previous DUP incumbents of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure did not last long in post. There is still a very real risk of the Assembly collapsing once again, and even if it survives its present travails, there will be elections in a year's time, which may bring a further risk of collapse if Sinn Féin is returned as the largest party. At the very least those elections will bring about an Executive reshuffle.

Ironically, experience has shown that Ulster Scots springs to life, or at least actuality, at times of collapse, crisis and negotiation. That factor may have provided a further incentive to string things out.