I’ve been following with interest the coverage of the Ulster Scots Agency’s funding plan since the story was first brought to light earlier this week in the Belfast Newsletter – and subsequently refried by other outlets. It was clear from the outset where the story was going as the Ulster Scots Agency CEO used a duplicitious figure ascribed to funding the Irish language, which had been used in a DUP press release – as the basis for the funding he was seeking for Ulster Scots but not just Ulster Scots as it happens.
The figure of £171m being ascribed to Irish language funding and being used by the Ulster Scots Agency as the basis for their claim for £139m includes £130m which was spent on Irish medium education in the 2011/12 to 2015/16 time span. That money would have had to be spent anyhow as those children needed education irrespective of the language used. Contrast that with the paltry £2m being allocated in the plan to Ulster Scots education – it’s slightly less than the £2.2m earmarked for marching bands. It’s a question of priorities.
It’s curious – but not unexpected – that the ‘shocking, daft and mad’ Ulster Scots plan is being used to attack funding for Irish. The vast bulk of the funding being attributed to Irish Language spend is being spent/invested in Irish medium education, which means it would have to be spent anyhow. It’s also worth noting that Wallace approves of the funding proposed by the Ulster Scots Agency for marching bands. By what notion could marching bands be regarded as part of Ulster Scots culture? Is this not an effort to claim Ulster Scots culture as a subset of loyalist/Unionist culture so that the Ulster Scots Agency can be used as a cash cow for loyalist/Unionist projects? That is, of course, weaponising Ulster Scots, dipping it into the sectarian cess pool so as to poison it for others. The fact that Ulster Scots is spoken by more than just those in the loyalist/unionist community is ignored, it seems, in the pursuit of a ‘quid pro quid’ arrangement between Irish and Ulster Scots.
Just as the funding priorities of Foras na Gaeilge are often questioned by those in the Irish language community – much more of the funding allocated to the Irish language body – which is funded by the Executive and the Dublin Government is finding its beneficiaries south of the border than the north, arguably more than the funding ratio of 25 (from the northern Executive) to 75(from the southern Government) – s0 too should the funding priorities of the Ulster Scots Agency be examined by the genuine supporters of that language.
I have argued here and in other media for Ulster Scots to be included in an Ulster Languages Act – leaving aside the debate as to whether Ulster Scots is a language or a dialect – much in the same way as Ulster Scots and Irish are included in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Irish is recognised under Part 3 while Ulster Scots is accorded Part 2 recognition – this merely recognises that the tongues are at different stages of development and their needs are different.
I don’t think any Irish speaker – and we’re all genuine by the way! – would deny Ulster Scots speakers support and legislative recognition. I for one – and many more – object to the way we’re being dragged into a ‘tit for tat’ exchange. This latest Ulster Scots Funding Plan and the way it has been presented and is being manipulated in the media has all the hallmarks of a political dirty trick – an attempt to deny the Irish language much needed support by denying the demands of the Ulster Scots Agency CEO’s wishlist. Nobody’s fooled.
As for Edwin Poots spurious claim that Irish is being used to deny hip operations, he really should cop himself on. In Wales, Government support of Welsh doesn’t hold back health provision and neither does Gaidhlig suppport in Scotland. In civilised and organised societies, governments do both with fuss or question. If Sinn Féin, and I’m not their spokesperson or apologist, is holding out on its demands that previous agreements should be upheld and implemented before going back into powersharing, it’s not about the Irish language but it is about trust in your government partners.