The Irish Language Act: Real costs revealed by Conradh na Gaeilge

It’s finally here, the bill for the proposed Irish Language Act.  This is the estimated cost from Conradh na Gaeilge, the umbrella group for Irish language speakers and organisations advocating for legislation to protect the Irish language from capricious political attacks and to promote it resolutely as per the Good Friday Agreement and The St Andrews accord.

The good news is that this estimate, put together by the organisation advocating for the legislation is a fraction of the price tags previously attached to the Act by different sources in the DUP. Nelson McCausland was on the airwaves and in print claiming it would cost £100m per year.   Arlene Foster attached the more modest but still exorbitant figure of £30m per year to the legislation committed to in the St Andrews Agreement which paved the way for powersharing between the DUP and SF.

According to Conradh na Gaeilge, which has put together an ambitious package of practical measures which would support the Irish language, the Irish Language Act would cost approximately £2m per year over five years plus £9m over the same period which would be a one off investment to cover initial set up of infrastructure.    This amounts to £19m over five years or approximately £3.8m per year of a five year term for an Executive.

What this money would pay for is set out in Conradh na Gaeilge’s executive summary to their detailed document:

It is suggested that there would be 11 sections as part of the Irish Language Act. Included in this are provisions which concern the Official status of the language; Irish in the Assembly, in Local Government, and in Public Companies; Irish and the BBC; Irish in the Department of Education; a Language Commissioner; and Place-Names.

£9m is the one off cost, The Irish Language Act would be started over a five-year period. This would be spent on the appropriate demands within that period of time, as opposed to directly at the beginning. An average of £1.8m a year.

The annual cost of the Irish Language Act would be £2m, with an understanding that this cost could be kept reasonable and workable if the Act was put in place properly with good will. This would add up to £10m of expenditure over a five-year period.

It is estimated also that there would be an additional £8m extra spending yearly in the economy in the north when the BBC fulfils its obligations to Irish language programming. This would add up to £40 of extra income over a five- year period.

One example of the practical workable suggestions to implement provisions at low cost regards bilingual stationary in government departments. It is suggested that stationary should be updated when the current stock has run out- therefore this incurs no extra cost, and the cost would be the normal cost of ordering updated stationary. This document contains a considerable number of suggestions like this.

There will be some cost involved in implementing an Irish Language Act. What is shown again and again in this document is that it is not an unfeasible and unreasonable cost that would be involved- an allegation which is often made without the facts to back it up. Contrary to this, it is a reasonable cost, and a cost that would be practical. More importantly, it would represent an investment in the people of the North in general.

Before we go on any further the BBC is mentioned in the Executive Summary but the annual £1om cost of extra programming and online provision by the broadcaster would be met from the licence fee fund.    During one of his regular appearances on Stephen Nolan’s radio show this morning, Nelson pointed his cost cutting finger to this figure and said it discredited the entire document. He lamented the affect it would have on other programming and claimed that it would only serve a small audience anyhow.   He hasn’t looked across the water to ‘mainland’ UK where the BBC spends around £8m per year on BBC Alba (added to £13.5m annually from the Scottish Government) as well as figures vastly in excess of those on S4C and Welsh language programming on BBC Wales.   Seemingly Nelson is happiest when Irish language speakers and enthusiasts in Northern Ireland are treated as second class viewers and licence payers in comparison to those in other UK nations.

Also not included in these costs is the amount spent on Irish Medium Education which according to Nigel Dodds was approximately £88m per year between 2010-15.   A large sum, of course, but still nowhere near bringing our annual total close to the £100m bill proposed by Nelson.   Of course, these children who attend Irish medium education, approximately 6000 in NI, have to be educated whatever the medium of education so it’s fair to assume that the vast bulk of this £88m would have to be spent anyhow.

When it comes down to it, it appears that the DUP has no interest in supporting the Irish language, despite the commitments contained in the agreements they signed up to.   The party is being led by those who consider Irish speakers unworthy of respect or equality of treatment.    Maybe there are more reasonable voices in the DUP than those of Nelson McCausland or Arlene Foster, maybe they should come to the fore and test the Conradh na Gaeilge proposal.    Get accountants to run the rule over it – while they’re at it, they should get the same accountants to look at the figures offered by Nelson because they were never tested either.   We will then see which is the real figure – and which is the fake news figure.

It strikes me, an Irish speaker, that if the bill comes in far less than that which was estimated by Nelson and others, that they should be delighted they’re getting something of value, buy in to the concept of Northern Ireland, for far less than originally envisaged.   Without mentioning NAMA, Red Sky or RHI, the party of prudence and careful goverment, as they like to portray themselves, should continue to be vigilant about the costs of an Irish Language Act but if cost is truly their objection, then this proposal by Conradh na Gaeilge, merits serious consideration and not the knee jerk rejection we heard from Nelson McCausland this morning.