Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Readers will recall that late last year Holywood Irish Society submitted a detailed Freedom of Information request to the Northern Ireland Assembly regarding its practice of requiring the consecutive translation of Irish speeches into English despite the employment of a simultaneous translator — a system that quite unnecessarily penalises those who choose to use Irish by cutting their speaking time in half and consequently discourages others from exercising legitimate linguistic choice.
On 23 December the Society submitted a further request, since it felt that not all its points had been answered in the Assembly's original response. The main substance of that second request concerned whether the Assembly had taken into account the possibility that its actions were unreasonable, being indirectly discriminatory against Catholics and Nationalists — almost the exclusive users of Irish and, since the departure of the DUP's Jim Shannon for Westminster, almost the exclusive users of any minority idiom:
"In the first paragraph you confirm that the Assembly "holds the information which [we] requested". You also acknowledge that we have asked "whether the potential for indirect discrimination against section 75 groups has been considered". Unfortunately, I can identify no answer to that simple factual enquiry in your response, and I should be grateful if you could now provide us with a clear "yes" or "no"."
The Assembly replied for the second time on 25 January:
"The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission ('the Commission') does not hold information on whether the potential for indirect discrimination against groups listed in section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 occasioned by requiring Members to translate what they have said in proceedings of the Assembly has been considered."
It therefore seems quite likely that no thought has in fact been given to this important issue — a quite outrageous state of affairs.
Monday, 27 February 2012
The BBC reports on another step towards universal availability of TG4 in Northern Ireland: the creation of an RoI multiplex on Freeview to carry the Irish-language station along with RTE 1 and 2. This is undoubtedly good news that will bring unalloyed satisfaction to all proponents of linguistic diversity and cultural choice.
The less satisfying part is that, some 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement promised us TG4, and months after the final date of the Northern Ireland analogue switchoff — 24 October 2012 — was made known, there still seems to be no inkling of when the much-vaunted multiplex will actually become available. In practical terms, that could happen immediately after the discontinuation of the analogue signal, but the BBC article seems to suggest that the Republic, which is working to its own digital timetable, will need time to fulfil its end of the bargain.
Quite apart from the question of whether RTE 1 and 2, which did not merit a mention in the GFA, should be allowed to hold up wider reception of TG4, why on earth should TG4's progress be dependent on the engineers of the Republic? Twenty-eight years on from Bunscoil Phobal Feirste receiving British Government funding for the first time, and 23 years after the establishment of Ultach Trust, it seems that large parts of language policy in the North are still subject to the vagaries, goodwill and luck of spillover from the South.
One point, however, is clear: in order to receive TG4, you may need a new Freeview box, since it is to be broadcast using the DVB-T2 standard normally reserved for HD programmes.
Some months ago the Blether Region blogged on the impending arrival on the stage of Ulster loyalism of an organisation styling itself the "Royal White Order of King Solomon". At the time we took a keen interest in the organisation's blog at weebly.com and the YouTube page of one "Angela Chillingham", most likely the pseudonymous online identity of a male evangelical with links to the British-Israel World Federation, a "Christian" organisation whose online outpourings both exaggerate and draw attention to the numbers of people in Greater Tunbridge Wells voting for the racist BNP.
Now both the blog and the YouTube page appear to have vanished, at least to public access. Indeed, the Blether Region was even disappointed when it attempted to view them using the Wayback Machine at Internet Archive.
For the record, Angela Chillingham's YouTube page listed among her favourite films The Stepford Wives and The Handmaid's Tale. If Ms Chillingham were a feminist intellectual, that would of course be unremarkable, but if she is, as the Blether Region strongly suspects, a married evangelical Christian man, that may put a rather different complexion on matters.
For the moment, though, the Royal White Order looks set to vanish from the page of history, leaving it bright and virginal, taintless and unsoiled — and above all white.
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
Monday saw the first Culture Questions of 2012 at Stormont, featuring an encounter between the current Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, and a former incumbent, Gregory Campbell.
"Mr Campbell: When the Minister goes down the route of providing strategies for the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language and heritage, will she ensure that Ulster Scots gets proportionate funding so that we see the strategy fully developed with manifest outcomes for people in the Ulster-Scots community? The issue of disproportionate funding arose throughout direct rule, because Ulster Scots received significantly less than the Irish language for many years. It is only in recent years that that has begun to be redressed.
Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. I am sure that, if he speaks to people from the Ulster-Scots community, he will find that I have been nothing but fair in the way that I have dealt with everyone, particularly on the issue of language, culture and heritage.
I am not going to have one section of the community receiving funding above and beyond what is proportionate and what it is entitled to, regardless of what was there in the recent or distant past. As I said in my previous answer, I anticipate that money for those strategies will come not only from my Department but from my ministerial colleagues. The money will be given out proportionally; it will be done fairly and to meet the needs of the community. That is what is important. It is about meeting people's needs rather than those of politicians."
Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 18 May 2009, Mr. Campbell had described eliminating the "disparity in funding for Irish and Ulster Scots" as "one of my objectives" since taking up the portfolio, something he suggested would be achieved through a reduction in funding for Irish. That policy now appears to be in the process of being reversed. Like Sinn Féin before it, the DUP is now discovering that for a party to be sure of retaining influence on cultural policy, DCAL must be among its first choices during the d'Hondt procedure.