Janet Muller is CEO of Pobal an advocacy organisation that has spearheaded work on Irish language rights since the Good Friday Agreement. Hers is one of the Northern Ireland based organisations facing a restructuring will see all publicly funded Irish language groups headquartered in Dublin and away from Belfast.
It is now 3 months since Foras na Gaeilge announced its decision to end core funding to all northern-based core funded Irish language groups and to transfer this funding to 6 Dublin-based organisations. During this time, no structured meetings with the organisations losing their funding have been organised by Foras na Gaeilge and little information appears to be forthcoming from the 6 newly appointed organisations.
As a result of Foras na Gaeilge’s process, that it is estimated that 14 full-time jobs will be lost across the island in one category alone, ‘Raising Awareness, Protecting the Language and Representation’.
The result of the ending of POBAL’s core funding on 30th June will mean a loss of services and support for Irish speakers, and a loss of crucial expertise and experience around legislation, rights, equality, Special Needs and a whole range of other areas affecting the development of Irish in the north.
Not one single organisation selected by Foras na Gaeilge is based in the north. None of them have the long-standing relationship with the same variety of key players that organisations like POBAL have.
Foras na Gaeilge itself recognises that there will be skills and knowledge gaps, and it admits that the six organisations will have to employ some people in the north, but the reality is that many more people will be laid off than will be re-employed.
There will be a massive drop in the authoritative, leadership and strategic roles for northern workers, which means that even if a small number of people with northern expertise get jobs, it will be very difficult for them to determine or influence organisational policy, to negotiate with politicians and service providers or to structure a work plan according to the specific needs of the north.
The ability of those with relevant experience in the north to significantly influence the agenda is already slipping away. Foras na Gaeilge has said that the six directors of the six organisations to be funded will meet in a Partnership Forum to co-ordinate all provision and services.
The Forum will be chaired by Foras na Gaeilge itself.
All six organisations appointed by Foras are large, Dublin-based groups. There is no representation on it for anyone but the directors of these organisations and Foras na Gaeilge itself.
Foras na Gaeilge issued a press release yesterday saying that the draft one year plans of the 6 organisations in the Partnership Forum have already been drafted and that the 3 year plans will be completed shortly.
All these things are being decided in Dublin at this very moment without any consultation with the organisations with expertise in the six counties, nor indeed with the Irish speaking community in general. Nor has there been any departmental consultation.
Although the finalised 3 year plans will be discussed by the new Language Development Forum created by Foras, only a relatively small number of groups, all of which are in receipt of Foras na Gaeilge funding, will sit on this Forum.
This has already been a divisive and highly flawed process and the language in the north has come out of it very badly. POBAL has always carried out co-ordination, research and project work on an all-Ireland basis, but it is obvious that both parts of the island need expert approaches because in the north the infrastructure is less developed, and the social, political and legislative position of the language is completely different from that in the south.
As well as that, it is recognised that there is a special vibrancy to the community in the north, yet Foras na Gaeilge is centralising resources around a small number of Dublin-based organisations – the only ones to survive the axe.
Foras na Gaeilge has previously claimed that an end to core funding does not mean an end to organisations. However, this week the organisations have condemned what they describe as attempts by Foras na Gaeilge ‘to poison the well’ of funding available to the four core funded Irish language organisations based in the north.
On Friday 11 April the organisations received copies of letters sent three days earlier by Seán Ó Coinn, Deputy Chief Executive of Foras na Gaeilge, to a number of government departments and agencies which Foras considered to be alternative funders.
The letters sought meetings to discuss how the withdrawal of Foras funding might affect relationships, including service level agreements, between the northern-based organisations and the statutory sector.
Significantly, Foras proposed that the organisations based in the south attend the meetings. The northern-based organisations were not invited.
We have had no explanation as to what Foras’s intention was in sending the letters about us to funders, but since we were to be excluded from the meetings, it is hard not to see this as an attempt to block any potential funding to the northern organisations.
When contacted, two of the southern based organisations said that they had no foreknowledge of Foras’ letters and that they would not attend any such meetings. However, even if these letters are withdrawn now, we have been smeared and it will now take significant and meaningful remedial action to redress the damage done.
We call on those responsible for the overseeing of this process to establish a transitional fund to support the northern-based organisations in maintaining their work and in developing successful funding strategies for the future.