Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 04 December 2008

Language Strategy

4 December 2008

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
The Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:
The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr Gregory Campbell)
Mr Kevin Hamill ) The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Linda Wilson )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
The Committee is about to receive a briefing on language strategy from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure. I advise members that the Minister’s briefing paper on the indigenous or regional minority language strategy is included in the members’ packs. I welcome the Minister and his senior departmental officials, Linda Wilson and Donal Moran, to the meeting. It is over to you, Minister.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure (Mr Campbell):
Good morning, Chairperson and Committee members.

Mr McCartney:
Before the Minister makes his presentation, I want to know whether he is time bound.

The Minster of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I am scheduled to be here for one hour.

As usual, I intend to be as succinct and as comprehensive as possible — if the Committee can manage those two things in the space of one hour. Thank you for the opportunity to update the Committee on the progress of the indigenous or regional minority languages strategy for Northern Ireland. Section 28D of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 places a duty on the Executive to adopt a strategy that sets out how they propose to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language and the Ulster-Scots culture, heritage and language. I consider that those duties can be best addressed through the development of a single strategy that should be based on several high-level principles. In my opinion, four principles are essential for a successful strategy — it must be overarching, non-prescriptive, needs based and deliverable within existing resources.

The Interdepartmental Charter Group is considering a strategy for Northern Ireland’s indigenous or regional minority languages, which will be underpinned by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The strategy aims to meet a range of Government commitments to the Irish and Ulster Scots languages, including the commitments in the Northern Ireland Act.

The interdepartmental group has engaged with the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group Partnership Board, Foras na Gaeilge and Pobal regarding some aspects relevant to the development of the strategy. The group has access to information from previous consultations on the Ulster Scots and Irish languages. I envisage that there will be a full, formal consultation on the strategy as part of the policy development process, and I look forward to hearing the views of key stakeholders. The interdepartmental group is an important player, both in policy development and implementation. It is probable that the interdepartmental group will remain the mechanism to report each Department’s progress on the implementation of the various aspects of the charter. The group received an early draft of a skeletal strategy in October, and the comments of the group will be considered carefully.

The development of a single strategy is designed to highlight our shared heritage and the desire to strive towards parity between the languages. It will be underpinned by our commitments in the charter, which already takes into account the position of each individual language, and the strategy will also do that.

I recognise that regional minority languages are at different stages of development for various historical and cultural reasons, and the different stages of the development of the languages will be taken into account in the development of the strategy.

The aims of the draft strategy are threefold — first, to create a framework within which the languages can flourish and be shared by those who wish to use them; secondly, to protect and support the development and learning of those languages by those who wish to use them; and, thirdly, to promote wider understanding of the background to the languages through recognition and respect for the relevant culture, heritage and tradition that underpins each language.

In considering the overall strategy, the Executive will need to consider resource issues and whether additional resources need, and can, be made available. There may be scope for the reallocation of existing funding by Departments in order to resource the work on languages, and in line with the priority that they give to the provision of those resources. The Executive might also consider wider language issues; for example, how a strategy might be expanded and developed in the future to include languages other than Irish and Ulster Scots to ensure service delivery to the significant ethnic minority groups in our society.

I intend to submit a paper to the Executive in the new year setting out the high-level principles on which a strategy for indigenous or regional minority languages in Northern Ireland might be based, and seeking their views on how that strategy should be developed. I look forward to hearing the preliminary views of the Committee on this important issue.

Mr McCartney:
Thank you for your presentation. I have a number of questions, and obviously our position on the need for an Irish language Act is known. Without prejudice, I would like to ask some questions on your briefing.

The Department has pointed to the need for a single strategy that would deal with the Irish language and Ulster Scots. However, all the signposts, including the 1998 Act, the St Andrews Agreement and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages point to the view that separate strategies should be introduced. Why has the Department decided on a single strategy, rather than on separate strategies? The needs of the Irish language and Ulster Scots are different and, therefore, can be better catered for with separate strategies.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Mr McCartney said that his questions were without prejudice to what he referred to as “our” position. I take it that by “our”, he did not mean the Committee.

Mr McCartney:
I was referring to the position of Sinn Féin.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
As I outlined in my opening comments, I have not heard anyone demur from the recognition that the Irish language and Ulster Scots are at different stages of development. Your question acknowledges that. The strategy, therefore, will have to take account of that fact, but the standpoint that the two are at different stages of development should not necessitate two completely different approaches.

The Department will approach the issue with an acceptance that there are two different levels of attainment, at the moment. The strategy’s drive will be to ensure that that differential minimises, decreases, and, over time, disappears. A single strategy is even more important in trying to achieve that objective, rather than taking two different approaches to what is a language/cultural issue.

Mr McCartney:
Throughout the Department’s briefing document, mention is made of provision for consultation. It states that formal consultation might be carried out within Departments and, subsequently, it mentions that public consultation might take place. The briefing paper says that consultation must go to the Executive and that interdepartmental agreement must be sought. Perhaps that would not be formal agreement — but some sort of agreement would be needed. If, along the line, the need for separate strategies became apparent, either through the consultation or the wish of the Executive, would the Department change its mind, or are you fixed on your view that there should be a single strategy?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
As I said earlier, the mechanics are that I will take the matter to the Executive in the new year. I shall ask one of my departmental colleagues to outline the mechanics of what will happen beyond the paper going to the Executive. I will then come to the issue of how the different stages of development will be dealt with.

Ms Linda Wilson (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):
The plan is that the Minister will take a paper to the Executive that will flag up several areas and try to reach agreement in principle on how the strategy should be fleshed out in more detail. It is difficult for officials to write a strategy without some type of steer on the direction that it should take. Once the Department has fleshed out a draft strategy, the Executive will need to sign it off for a formal period of consultation, during which we will engage with stakeholders and take their views on the content of that document back to Ministers.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Mr McCartney’s question was on whether we would reconsider if it became apparent throughout the consultation that a single strategy was not an achievable objective. Obviously, I want to be open about the development of each of the languages and to the fact that it may transpire subsequently that the strategy has to be widened out to take account of other languages that, over a generation, almost become indigenous because speakers of that language have been here for such a duration.

If it became obvious that a single strategy was not working, I would be open to reviewing that. However, my view is that, currently, a single strategy that incorporates, acknowledges, and tries to deal with the two languages at their different stages of development is the best way forward.

That strategy, single or otherwise, is not preclusive. I am not ruling anything out. Currently, however, I am convinced that the single-strategy approach is the best one.

Mr McCartney:
The St Andrews Agreement Act is very clear; it states that there should be a strategy for the development of the Irish language, and a strategy to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture. How did the Department interpret that as a single strategy, rather than as two separate strategies?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
It is a matter of having a strategy to develop the Ulster Scots language and the Irish language. I do not think that the wording said precisely that there had to be a strategy for the Irish language, full stop, and that there had to be another strategy for the Ulster Scots language.

Mr McCartney:
It can be read in that way.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
It can also read that there has to be a strategy to develop the Irish language; there has to be a strategy to develop Ulster Scots. That is what we intend to do through the mechanism of a single strategy.

Mr McCartney:
I will read from the Act to clarify:

“The Executive Committee shall adopt a strategy setting out… the development of the Irish language. The Executive Committee shall adopt a strategy…and develop the Ulster Scots language. The Executive Committee must keep under review each of the strategies”.

That is the basis of my argument.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Linda will go through the details of the Act.

Ms L Wilson:
We read it as a strategy; whether that results in one strategy document or two strategy documents is a separate point. That strategy is trying to cover a number of commitments, including EU-level commitments as stated in the European charter.

Mr McCartney:
Even the charter states that both languages are separate and distinct.

Mr McCausland:
I support the principle of a single overarching framework with two sub-strategies. That is not dissimilar to the situation whereby there is one cross-border language body, but two separate agencies. Similarly, there could be two strategies within an overarching framework. That way, what the Minister and the officials are saying will not in any way conflict with the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I will respond in a way that, hopefully, will deal with this matter conclusively. I have been approached about a language strategy in respect of migrant workers, and the fact that there are language issues beyond Irish and Ulster Scots. I have tried to allude to that.

At the moment, we are restricted under the Act, and the charter, to dealing with Irish and Ulster Scots. However, over the years, it may be that we have to include other languages — the Chinese languages, Lithuanian or Polish. I hope that no one would suggest that each of those individual languages would require an individual and separate strategy; that would be absurd.

That is one of the reasons why I think that an overarching strategy, taking account of all language issues, is the appropriate and proper way forward.

The Chairperson:
Are you ignoring the fact that, given the particular circumstances of the North of Ireland, the Irish language is hugely important?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I am not ignoring that, but nor do I want to take such account of it as to ignore other languages. The large and growing population of Polish people in Northern Ireland may feel that they are being ignored. I hope that they do not demand a Polish language strategy, because then we could be facing multiple strategies.

There is no reason to go down that route, unless we have excess resources. We do not. The complete opposite is true; resources are so scarce that we are trying to reapportion them in the best way possible.

My view at the moment is that a single, overarching strategy that takes account of a number of languages is the best way forward. I am prepared to look at that as we go through the consultation process — it would be self-defeating to fail to do that.

The Chairperson:
So — as the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure — Irish equals Polish, as far as you are concerned?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I am not excluding Irish, but neither by the inclusion of Irish am I excluding Polish.

Mr D Bradley:
My views on this issue are well enough known at this stage. Annex B of the St Andrews Agreement has two distinct, separate paragraphs, one of which commits the Government to introducing an Irish language Act, reflecting the experience of Wales and Ireland, and to working with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

The other paragraph commits the Government to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture. I wonder why those two paragraphs of the St Andrews Agreement, one of which obviously suggests that there should be legislation for the Irish language, are not reflected in your approach to a strategy.

I do not particularly want to force people to do things, but surely the non-prescriptive element of the Minister’s strategy would mean that some Departments could take a certain number of actions, and other Departments could take a certain number of other actions, with the result that there would be various levels of commitment across Departments and a totally inconsistent approach to languages.

As well as that, the fact that the strategy will be deliverable using existing resources does not, in my view, augur well for the future. If the strategy has to be delivered using existing resources, it means that there is no innovation involved in it. I would suggest that, by simply reallocating funding and possibly changing priorities, the strategy is akin to rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Most people would like to see a new and innovative approach, and I am not convinced that the Minister’s strategy will provide that. Like Raymond’s party, the SDLP is committed to Irish language legislation, in keeping with the commitment contained in the St Andrews Agreement. However, out of courtesy to the Minister, I am making comments about his strategy, and I am interested to hear his response.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Mr Bradley is quite right in his reference to the St Andrews Agreement. I hope that he will accept and understand that the St Andrews Agreement was an agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Irish Republic. My party and I were not party to the St Andrews Agreement, nor did we sign up to it. The section that Mr Bradley referred to is one of the reasons that we did not sign up to it.

I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I regard the traditional disparity between funding for the Irish language and for Ulster Scots as totally and utterly unsustainable. It is untenable, unjustifiable and unsustainable, and I will not preside over it — I will not do it. I have made that clear.

The Chairperson:
Is it possible for you to secure more money for both the Irish language and Ulster Scots? In one sense, people are saying that the strategy is a backdoor way of reducing financial support for the Irish language and that that is your true objective. As a scrutiny Committee, we must scrutinise such matters.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Yes, and I am quite happy to be open to that scrutiny. I do not intend to use back doors — I intend to demand entry through the front door. Those days are over — people are not going to be treated as second class any more and, as one who was, I am not going to do that. The issue is that there has been a traditional disparity in funding. Mr Bradley and, obviously, some other members of the Committee believe that the way to resolve that is through an Irish language Act, and Mr Bradley has cited the St Andrews Agreement.

The British Government and the Government of the Irish Republic committed themselves to the St Andrews Agreement. I did not, and neither did my party, so we will not be implementing its recommendations.

Mr D Bradley:
So, you are not committed to any aspect of the St Andrews Agreement?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
As was made clear at the time, the St Andrews Agreement was an agreement between the Governments of the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom — that analysis was accepted, and I have not heard anyone dispute that.

What do we do now? The Governments have stated their positions — I accept their right to do that, and it is fine if others want to subscribe to those positions. However, we have a devolved settlement in Northern Ireland, in which there are Ministers with departmental responsibility. My responsibility is for culture, arts and leisure, which includes the remit of language promotion. I am prepared to develop a strategy — consulting with all the stakeholders and taking on board their views — that best promotes those languages. A strategy can facilitate that, whereas an Irish language Act would worsen the divide — if there is a disparity in funding between the Irish language and Ulster Scots, giving an Act to the language that receives considerably more funding will make that disparity worse. The Chairperson’s comment about funding —

Mr D Bradley:
I compare the Irish language to the English language — Irish is the national language of Ireland, and people who claim Irish citizenship regard Irish as their national language. My comparison is not between the Irish language and Ulster Scots, it is between the Irish language and the English language.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I have no difficulty with that view. However, I have two indigenous, regional and minority languages to deal with and I want a strategy to promote both. I am not prepared to look at a strategy that widens the disparity. Instead, I am adamant that I will look at a strategy that narrows or eliminates the disparity. Anyone who demands equality should sign up to such a strategy, because that is what it aims to achieve.

Mr D Bradley:
Your paper recognises that Ulster Scots is at a different stage in its development, compared with the Irish language. Any considerable interest in Ulster Scots is a recent phenomenon, which is one possible reason why the Ulster-Scots community does not have the capacity to deal with resources that it has been allocated. That was highlighted when your Department had to give back money that it allocated to the establishment of the Ulster-Scots academy, which was not used. Therefore, I do not agree that there has been a deliberate attempt to discriminate against Ulster Scots. Ulster Scots deserves resources and support, but it is at a different stage in its development, compared with the Irish language.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
In my preliminary remarks, I accepted that Ulster Scots is at a different stage in its development — everyone accepts that analysis. However, I do not accept that Ulster Scots is a recent phenomenon: it is centuries old.

Mr D Bradley:
I said that the growing interest in Ulster Scots is a relatively recent development.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I took close note of the term “recent phenomenon”. Ulster Scots is not a recent phenomenon — it is a generational and centuries-old culture and language that has been neglected for a variety of reasons. I accept Mr Bradley’s analysis that it may not have been systematically discriminated against, but it was disadvantaged. That situation cannot, and will not, be sustained.

The Chairperson:
Is it fair to say that the Irish language was systematically discriminated against?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I have difficulty with people demanding recognition that one aspect of culture was systematically disadvantaged and the other was not, when the one that was supposedly disadvantaged received tens of millions of pounds more in funding than the one that apparently was not. I have a major difficulty with that.

The Chairperson:
Some people believe that that is a false comparison, made for political reasons.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
The reality of the funding picture is what must be considered, and there has been no serious dispute about that when it has been mentioned several times in the Assembly and in public. Regardless of how that picture may have come about, and whatever the rationale behind it, no one seriously disputes that there is a funding disparity.

In any other aspect of life, if it were acknowledged that there was no dispute about a reason for disadvantage — but that it existed — progress would be made. We are where we are now, and I intend to develop an overarching strategy. That will not be compulsory. Nothing is being considered that means someone will have to learn something that they do not want to learn or that they do not feel is part of their background, culture or heritage. However, the strategy must enable personal development of those who want to pursue Irish, Ulster Scots or other languages and cultures that might be embraced in the future.

The Chairperson:
For the sake of balance, I will invite Jim to speak before you, Francie, if you do not mind. Therefore, it will be Kieran first, then Jim, Francie and Nelson.

Mr McCarthy:
Thank you for being here, Minister. The Committee has listened, as we are entitled to, to the people’s attitudes towards the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages, but the reality is that English is the language of these islands. There are a significant number of people being discriminated against, namely deaf people — I am talking about British sign language and Irish sign language, which have not been mentioned. The Minister belatedly said that he would address that subject, and that of ethnic-minority languages. Will Irish and British sign languages be brought further up the Department’s agenda to the benefit of more members of the public?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Sign language is an issue that I hope will arise during consultation, and I am more than happy to consider it. I am not sure how hearing-impaired people who use the British or Irish sign languages are incorporated into the consultation, but they will be.

Ms L Wilson:
By way of background, the charter group of officials who discussed sign language spent some time considering whether British and Irish sign languages should be included in the strategy. The group concluded that they were very important but were different issues than the promotion of Irish and Ulster Scots.

Mr McCarthy:
Yes, but it must be remembered that the people affected are dependent on sign language. Irish and Ulster Scots are a choice that people make. Sign language is very important to hearing-impaired people.

Ms L Wilson:
Yes, and, as I said, there was a discussion about how best to take that into account. No answer was agreed, but the best way to address that matter must be considered.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
If it is helpful, my officials and I will feed Mr McCarthy’s comments into the consultation process as a result of today’s discussions.

Mr McCarthy:
That is grand, but the issue must not be shoved way down the pecking order — it must be placed as high up the agenda as it can go.

Mr Shannon:
It is nice to see the Minister and his staff here at the Committee. For the record, I am not part of a recent phenomenon. My ancestry is as long in this part of the island and in Northern Ireland as anyone else’s; therefore, I am not part of a recent phenomenon that was blown in on a wind in the past month or so.

Mr D Bradley:
Nobody said that you were.

Mr Shannon:
No, but for the record, I want to make sure that you know that.

The Minister said that the strategy must be deliverable within existing resources. Do you believe that it is more important to have a strategy with a funding limit in order that your Department, like all others, can live within that budget?

In the 1960s, Viv Nicholson was one of the first people to win the football pools. She said that she was going to “spend, spend, spend”. Some members of this Committee seem to have the same attitude. Is it not important to be level-headed and prudent in relation to budgets for the language strategy that you have just explained, rather than draining the coffers of the Northern Ireland Assembly with a continuous wish list? Will you explain how the language strategy will be developed for Irish and Ulster Scots within a budget that you and your Department are setting aside?

In your initial presentation, you mentioned ethnic minorities and the fact that a demand may come from Polish, Chinese, Lithuanian and Indian speakers. How will you evaluate whether to introduce other languages into you strategy? Will it be based on numerical strength or demand? I am conscious of the fact that many workers have returned their homeland because there is no work here for them.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
When we are considering whether it will be possible to deliver the strategy with the existing resources, it comes down to very hard choices that have to be made in an economic climate that does not exactly lend itself to a Rolls Royce of a proposal that may well be subject to considerable criticism. Members of the wider community could highlight other pressing demands that are much more important to them on a daily basis. I refer to people from right across the community who may be from an Ulster-Scots, Irish or other cultural background.

They may well say that it is all very well having an all-singing, all-dancing language strategy that will cost a significant amount of money if it were a Rolls Royce model, but they could ask about the issues with which they are faced on a daily basis. Alternatively, in my view, we can try to be much more realistic and evaluate what can be achieved within the confines of the existing budget and evaluate how that could be promoted, because the economic climate will change over the coming Assembly term.

We should evaluate how a strategy can be developed in which the resources should be confined to those that are attainable. Would I be likely to succeed if I were to bid for a budget that was significantly more than the one that I bid for previously, in addition to the other pressing demands with which my Department is faced? That is an issue with which I must wrestle. I want to try to steer a middle course so that we get the best strategy that we can afford, and to try and promote cultural and language issues across the range that affect quite a number of people in Northern Ireland.

Mr Shannon’s other question was in relation to ethnic minorities. That covers one of the reasons why I think that a single strategy is the better approach. Mr Shannon is quite right — large numbers of people arrive in Northern Ireland, stay for a short time, and then a significant number of them leave. One would not want to establish a strategy that covers large numbers of people when, after a few years, one could be left with a strategy but not an awful lot of people to avail themselves of it. It must be flexible enough to take that into account.

If the demand for a particular part of the strategy diminishes, the strategy would still be there and it would still encompass those people. However, it must be demand-led. We must try to promote it where there is demand, but there is no point in having a strategy and promoting it if the people whose cultural, historic and language backgrounds are encompassed in the strategy are not present to avail themselves of what it offers.

Mr Brolly:
Raymond McCartney covered most of what I have to say, but I will make a few disparate points. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages aims:

“to promote regional or minority languages in order to safeguard them”.

The question of how to look after immigrants’ language does not arise here, because the Polish or Chinese languages are not in any danger. The languages of people coming to live here are looked after in schools and elsewhere and those people are equipped to learn English. It is right that that should happen.

Kieran made an interesting point about sign language. Why should we consider looking after immigrants’ language if we are not prepared to look after sign language at the same level? Sign language is another minority language.

I am a great adherent of Ulster Scots. I grew up and still live in an area that is close to a strong Ulster-Scots area in Magilligan. As much as going to Magilligan to see the lovely scenery and the lovely prison —

Mr Shannon:
From the inside or the outside, Francie? [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:
I love going there to hear the people speaking, but those people would be very insulted if I suggested that they were not speaking English. Nevertheless, we should do everything that we can to preserve that particular way of speaking. It is musical and it is lovely to the ear, even though it can be demanding sometimes.

The EU committee of experts stated that it is necessary to draw distinctions between languages according to their functions in society. It also said that the charter accepts, and, indeed, supports not treating all languages according to the same rules, as long as there is respect for their objective situation. Furthermore, it underlined that each regional or minority language should be protected and promoted according to its own situation.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I do not disagree with the first part of what Mr Brolly said. Indeed, that is why I framed my opening comments in the way that I did. Initially, the language strategy will be about the indigenous languages. However, we cannot close our eyes or minds to the communities that come here and stay. The Chinese community, for example, have been here for decades. In decades to come, other communities will also have their roots very much in Northern Ireland.

Those communities may well be offended if their history, culture and language were not treated in a similar way to the Ulster-Scots and Irish languages. It is a case of trying to ensure that the strategy, initially, covers the languages that the European charter indicates that it should. However, the strategy must also have sufficient flexibility to cover other languages that emerge as relevant. My understanding is that the European charter’s commitments — in respect of Irish and Ulster Scots — have been met throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland. Those commitments have been met, even without a language strategy or an Irish language Act.

Mr McCausland:
I welcome the departmental briefing paper as it sets a good framework for preparing a language strategy. The idea of having high-level principles is crucial. If the right principles are not established at the start of a project, the rest will not be right.

I favour the idea of one strategy catering for different languages. In response to Francie Brolly’s point, languages may be treated differently, but they should be treated equitably. The needs of languages may be different, but the level of commitment and support given to them should not be discriminatory. Therefore, the principle of equity can lie comfortably alongside different needs.

I am disappointed by Dominic Bradley’s comments about the Ulster-Scots Academy. The full story will emerge in due course, whereupon some people known to him might have red faces.

I thought that a shared future would have been one of the high-level principles, because language issues in Northern Ireland have been contentious. The strategy should include a commitment to a shared and better future and should find ways to depoliticise language issues. That process will take time because, unfortunately, language has been politicised for the past 100 years. However, such a commitment would benefit Northern Ireland and should include proposals and projects that respect people’s rights to not be assimilated. I do not want to be forced into an Irish culture or identity, and that will not happen. Nevertheless, we must create a sense of a shared future in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Mr McCausland makes an important point about the depoliticising of language, which emerges occasionally and should not be overlooked. Whether we like it or not, that matter has caused deep regret to genuine Ulster-Scots and Irish-language enthusiasts. I had discussions with fervent Irish-language speakers in Londonderry, who were adamant that they were not politically motivated and were distraught at those people who sought to politicise the language. Moreover, Ulster-Scots speakers made similar arguments. The importance of depoliticising language should not be underemphasised, and the strategy should reflect that fact. I hope that people will recognise that, and accept and embrace the strategy.

Mr P Ramsey:
I welcome the Minister to the meeting. I have no difficulty advocating and promoting Ulster Scots. In fact, I will approach the Minister to discuss an appropriate commemoration for our city’s Plantation period under, as Nelson said, a theme of reconciliation. Therefore, there should be no sense that we are trying to undermine the promotion of Ulster Scots.

There is genuine concern, anger and frustration in the Irish community at the lack of promotion of Irish and the non-introduction of the Irish language Act. Many people are concerned that this exercise is for the optics and that it is not a credible piece of work that will promote the Irish language. The paper on the strategy states that it will:

“protect the development of the Irish language”

Thereafter, it states that it will protect the:

“Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture”.

Why is there is no reference to Irish culture or heritage?

In the Chamber and at Committee meetings, the Minister continually talks about “disparity”, “equality” and a “level playing field”. The aims and high-level principles of the strategy promote a needs-based approach. However, it must also promote a rights-based approach. I am unsure of the figures for Irish-language and Ulster-Scots users, but we must ensure equality and avoid arguments. I imagine that the census would show that 150,000 people use the Irish language. Jim or Nelson could, perhaps, outline the figures for Ulster Scots.

Logically therefore, under your stewardship, for every pound spent on the Irish language, a pound must be spent on Ulster Scots. Is that what you mean by equality, and, if so, why is spending not prioritised according to need? Although equal funding is the best approach, the amount of money allocated to promote each language should be proportionate to the number of people who use them.

In similar circumstances, concerning spending on the safety of sports grounds, the Minister ignored his own definition of equality. The level of spending on each sport must be proportionate to the level of participation in it. Should, for example, the same amount of money be spent on soccer as on a minority sport such as fencing? Using the Minister’s equation, such funding would be equal; however, I believe that spending should be proportionate. What form of logic will be followed under your stewardship?

Moreover, what comfort can you give to Irish speakers that you are serious about promoting their language? In the Chamber, you have said that you will ensure that the people who promote Ulster Scots get what they want — I am here to ensure that as well — however, people outside the Chamber believe that your efforts politicise the matter and undermine all the non-political work that goes on in the Irish-language sector. Therefore, apart from what they perceive is being done for the optics, what will you give those people?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Mr Ramsey began by referring to “anger and frustration” among Irish-language activists, but what is the source of that anger and frustration? No matter how it is measured — and how it is measured is crucial — there is significant demand for the Irish language and for the Ulster-Scots language, history and culture.

Although I am quite happy to change my wording, I refer to “Ulster-Scots language, history and culture” because that is the phrase that most people in the Ulster-Scots communities use. Normally, when I hear from Irish-language enthusiasts they stick with the phrase “Irish language”; however, if they want me to refer also to history and culture, I am happy to do so.

The Chairperson:
Are we not discussing a language strategy?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and leisure:
We are. If Irish-language enthusiasts want the Irish language, history and culture to be promoted, I am happy to adapt.

The Chairperson:
Is that another ruse to spend less money on the Irish language?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and leisure:
If Irish-language enthusiasts informed me that they would prefer me to use the term “Irish language, history and culture”, I would say that that is OK. If I were to refuse, I would be criticised for not acceding to their request. On the whole, Ulster-Scots groups tend to talk about Ulster-Scots language, history and culture, and I am happy to acknowledge that. If Irish-language enthusiasts wish to do likewise, I am happy to acknowledge that as well.

The Chairperson:
I have not heard any Irish-language enthusiasts ask for that, but I did hear —

The Minister of Culture, Arts and leisure:
That is the point that I was making.

The Chairperson:
I heard Nelson McCausland agreeing with the Minister. He said that one should not conflate, on the one hand, Ulster-Scots language, culture and heritage with, on the other, the Irish language, so why, when discussing a language strategy, can you not refer to the Irish language and the Ulster-Scots language, and deal with them as such?

Mr McCausland:
That is a misrepresentation of what I said. I was speaking in the context of broadcasting provisions that are being considered by Ofcom in response to the charter.

References to language, heritage and culture date back to the cross-border bodies’ remits, one of which for us is explicitly about language and the other of which includes culture. Moreover, several political parties that are represented around this table signed up to creating that situation, so the member should not blame anyone else.

Mr P Ramsey:
I appreciate the Minister’s dilemma; however, by including the term “Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture”, one can imagine that there might be a reallocation of moneys in his Department. Therefore, it is possible that the Ulster-Scots heritage and culture will receive an unfair balance.

If, at the end of the process, a set amount of money has been determined to advance this, extra money should not be taken out of existing resources. The Minister should go to the Executive to seek additional money, because I do not want to see circumstances in which sport and art lose money because of this exercise.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I was reluctant to go down this road, but I will. About a month ago, in response to a question for oral answer, I said that approximately £40 million was spent on the promotion of the Irish language in the past eight years, and £12·5 million was spent in support of Ulster Scots in the past eight years. Some people might argue that the anger and frustration is not amongst the Irish-language enthusiasts — there are 40 million reasons why they should not be angry or frustrated. However, I can think of 27·5 million reasons why Ulster-Scots enthusiasts might be angered and frustrated.

I could say that the time has come to balance the books, but I am not saying that. If I did, Irish-language enthusiasts might well be angry and frustrated.

The Chairperson:
Is Mr Ramsey’s reference to soccer and fencing relevant? How much have you spent on soccer compared to fencing?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I hope that Mr Ramsey and the Chairperson are not comparing Irish language to soccer and Ulster Scots to fencing.

Mr P Ramsey:
It was not the intention.

The Chairperson of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
That is what it sounded like.

Mr P Ramsey:
Minister, will you inform me of the logic that you apply to your comments on equality? How many people participate in and use the Ulster-Scots language, and how many use the Irish language? When you have answered that, give me your rationale for saying pound for pound.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I was coming to that; I am glad that Mr Ramsey reminded me of it. He referred to the census. At the time of the last census, I remember asking the director of the Census Office for Northern Ireland whether the organisation was prepared to include a question on Ulster Scots in a future census. The director said that the organisation was not prepared to do that.

Mr McCartney:
Were you told why?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
The director said that the organisation was not prepared to include a question, but I cannot remember the reasoning. Therefore it is little wonder that a significant number of people answered a question that they were asked, and a non-determinate number cannot be itemised, because they were not asked the question.

Mr P Ramsey:
Is there an equal proportion of people participating and using the Irish language and Ulster Scots?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I do not know, but I know that a large number of people use both.

Mr P Ramsey:
Departmental officials should be in a position to let us know what proportion, or percentage, of people in Northern Ireland participate and use those languages.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
No Department could possibly provide details of how many people are engaged in the Irish language or the Ulster-Scots culture and language.

Mr P Ramsey:
Do the Ulster-Scots groups not know how many people in Northern Ireland —

Mr McCausland:
I was trying to get in on that point. There are two figures that are worth noting. The most recent census showed that 150,000 to 160,000 people claimed to have some ability to read or, possibly, write or, possibly, understand Irish. The ‘Andersonstown News’ carried an editorial in which it stated that an Irish-language activist told people that they should state that they are Irish speakers if the only words that they can say are “tiocfaidh ár lá”. My response was that I live on a cul-de-sac, but it does not mean that I speak French.

The Chairperson:
I think that you are misrepresenting the situation, Mr McCausland.

Mr McCausland:
I do live in a cul-de-sac.

The Chairperson:
You certainly operate in a cul-de-sac.

Mr McCausland:
Some 150,000 people claimed that they were Irish speakers, but I estimate that only 10,000, or less, speak Irish daily in the home situation. In fact, 10,000 is being generous; it is probably fewer. According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA), the number of people who speak Ulster Scots — again, the figure is based on self-definition, so it is imprecise — accounts for 2% of the population, or 32,000 people.

Mr McCartney:
Are those people who speak it every day?

Mr McCausland:
They are native speakers.

Mr McCartney:
You are saying that there are only 10,000 native Irish speakers. That argument is unsustainable. What about schools? How many Ulster-Scots schools are there? That is a good gauge of the numbers.

Mr McCausland:
One issue that is being highlighted, and about which the Minister has spoken, is the fact that, for far too long, Ulster Scots has been discriminated against in favour of Irish. The figure of 32,000 — [Interruption.]

I hope that people will listen to this point and learn something from it. Listening can be just as important as speaking.

According to that survey, there are 32,000 people who speak Ulster Scots. The socio-economic profile of those people shows that they tend to be elderly and they tend to be rural dwellers. That suggests that that figure is not fake or artificially inflated. Those people are genuine Ulster-Scots speakers, because Ulster-Scots speakers tend to be from the older generation and live in rural Ulster-Scots heartlands. Those people did not learn the language in school, because they did not need to. The language was passed on to them, in the home, by their parents. That is intergenerational learning of the language. The number of speakers was not created through the teaching of the language in school.

Lord Browne:
Minister, you have stated that, in order to formulate an effective strategy, it is important to consult with as wide a range of stakeholders as possible. It would be unfortunate if the results were to come down to number crunching between nationalists and unionists. Any strategy would have to embrace widespread support. Have you had any discussions with your counterparts in Scotland, Wales, Westminster or the Irish Republic that would give you ideas for the strategy?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Lord Browne’s initial comment is very appropriate. We ought not to allow the matter to degenerate into a quid pro quo —

Mr P Ramsey:
You are doing that yourself.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I am not doing that. I am determined that equity shall prevail. If it did not prevail in the past, it will do so now. That is the situation; I will not deviate from it.

With regard to Lord Browne’s question about consultations, I have had some discussion with Linda Fabiani, my Scottish counterpart, and with Eamon Ó’Cuív in the Irish Republic. I am scheduled to meet with Welsh and Scottish representatives in the new year, and there will be a North/South Ministerial Council meeting soon, which will deal with language issues. Therefore, I have consulted widely with my counterparts. Hopefully, when the comprehensive consultation document ensues, that consultation will continue and will deepen.

Mr K Robinson:
Perhaps we need to hear a wee bit of history on the issue. People on the far side of the table will realise that Irish survived here simply because of the work that was carried out in parts of the Province by the Ulster Scots, who maintained and promoted the language.

Mr P Ramsey:
We are indebted to you, Ken.

Mr K Robinson:
We promoted it for its worth, not for any political reasons, so let us get that out of the way straightaway.

Also the role of education in the changes in language pattern — [Interruption.]

The Chairperson:
I want Ken to be allowed to speak uninterrupted.

Mr K Robinson:
It was mentioned that the older generations still speak Ulster Scots, because they were able to use it in their homes. However, they were not allowed to speak Ulster Scots in school; they had to use standard English. The same happened with Irish.

If one examines the census from the turn of the previous century, one will find that, in parts of Belfast, there was a question about who used Irish, and it tended to be the head of the household, or the older people in the households, but not the younger people. That was because people gave up using the language for economic reasons. As the gentleman from Londonderry should know, the Donegal Irish speakers came to the Lagan and adopted what they thought was English, but was, in fact, Ulster Scots, and they did so for economic benefit. Therefore, there is an historical aspect to the matter.

I must agree with the Minister’s point that there has been imbalance over the years. I am a blow-in in south-east Antrim; I have only been there for 60 years. I came from Belfast, and when I moved to Whitehouse on the outskirts of Belfast, people still spoke a language that I had never heard before.

The use of that language has now retreated to as far as Ballyclare and beyond, because people — for economic or educational reasons — took up standard English. Consequently, in Northern Ireland, some people speak in that awfully polite and affected way.

Mr Shannon:
In Cherryvalley?

Mr K Robinson:
Yes; in Cherryvalley. Recently, a number of educationalists introduced the possibility of schools teaching either Irish or Spanish. I asked for the figures of the uptake for those subjects in schools. The uptake of Irish in schools was slow and low, compared with that for Spanish. Therefore, one can see where the demand lies.

I forgot to welcome you this morning, Minister. Dzień dobry, Minister. Do you mind if I have some paani? That first phrase that I used is Polish. Yesterday, we were in Portadown to speak to the principal of a school who had opened two new classrooms. He had opened those classrooms because people from the Polish community wanted to ensure that their young people not only had their Polish language recognised, but their Polish culture.

Mr Shannon:
At our party conference, we had a Polish —

Mr D Bradley:
We know all that.

Mr K Robinson:
You do not know; that is the point. Indigenous groups live here, and they deserve equality. I am glad to see that the Minister is moving along with that. Polish people and Portuguese people live here. I have two grandsons who will hopefully speak Hindi. What provisions are being made for the Indian community, which has been here for generations? What provisions are being made for the Chinese community? Is Mandarin being taught? Are those groups being given the opportunity to develop? So let us have a bit —

Mr D Bradley:
Your question should be directed to the Minister.

Mr K Robinson:
I know, but since you interrupted me —

The Chairperson:
Ken, you made a number of strong points. Do you want to ask a question?

Mr K Robinson:
Minister, can you evaluate the added advantage that the Irish language receives from being able to access out-of-state help? Ulster Scots cannot access such help, particularly in respect of broadcasting.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I thank Mr Robinson for his question. It is difficult to evaluate that. He spoke about the educational sphere. The difficulty with trying to evaluate the added advantage that the Irish language receives is that we could end up trying to define something that, by its nature, is almost indefinable.

It is difficult to define what sort of promotion of the Irish language there was and is in either in fee-paying schools or Irish-language schools, and what sort of promotion of Ulster Scots there was not and is not in other schools. That is a fact. Some members made the point that it appears that, historically, one language was not only cherished, but an intrinsic part of community development, while the other was simply left to either flourish or wither by dint of family aural and oral use down through the generations.

Some people ask what I am going to do to redress that. However, redressing decades of underfunding might mean that I would have to demand millions if not billions of pounds for investment in Ulster Scots over 10 years. I do not think that would be very beneficial or helpful. That is why it is difficult to evaluate. However, the strategy must try to encompass, in so far as it can, the languages that people want promoted — initially, the Irish language and Ulster Scots, and, subsequently, other languages. Those languages must be promoted in a non-threatening and depoliticised way. That, I hope, will led to a richer diversity for all of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr Brolly:
The Minister made a strong point about equity. I agree totally with Nelson McCausland; we must focus on what we are doing now to neutralise this place. Rather than having our separate cultures, we should cherish them all. Mr McCausland also mentioned the issue of need — everyone and everything has needs.

Quite clearly, if the strategy is going to be needs based, the Irish language’s requirements are much greater than the Ulster Scots requirements. Despite Nelson’s cynicism, an estimated 160,000 speak Irish. Indisputably, more than 4,000 students are studying through the medium of Irish in 81 educational establishments. Therefore, the needs of that language are great.

The needs are great, and obviously much greater than any other —

Mr Shannon:
You have £40 million to do that with.

The Chairperson:
I do not think that £40 million has been invested in Irish-medium education.

Mr Brolly:
Let me come to the point about equity, and the proposed Irish language Act for the North. An estimated 55,000 Gaelic-speakers in Scotland have the Gaelic Language ( Scotland) Act 2005. There is no Irish language Act for three times that number of Irish-speakers who live here. Is that equitable?

The Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I do not want to get into a circular argument. It is indisputable that there is a wide interest — and a passion — for both the Ulster Scots and the Irish languages among tens of thousands of people. I doubt that we can define it.

The census question is certainly as Mr McCausland outlined it: the census identifies the numbers of those who claim to have knowledge — whatever that might be — of those languages. Perhaps, at the next census, if it is asked whether one has a knowledge of Ulster Scots, we may well get a comparable figure. How accurate the responses to both would be is another matter entirely.

Mr Shannon tried to make an intervention about the £40 million. That £40 million was spent by DCAL, which takes no account of the millions spent on the Irish language by the Department of Education. Those sums would widen the disparity still further.

The Chairperson:
Money on education is money spent on education.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
It certainly is: and the Ulster-Scots lobby can argue that it suffers a big shortfall in that respect.

However, I do not think we will get a satisfactory conclusion if it is constantly a case of one lobby demanding significant resources because it believes that it has been historically disadvantaged. If everyone says that, all I can do is carve up a finite cake into ever-smaller slices: everyone will get less. If people want to go down that route, I will oppose it: I will ensure that the strategy does not go down that route. I will try to ensure that there is an overarching strategy that, so far as it can, meets the demands proportionately and equitably, so that people do not complain — as they did previously, historically and traditionally — that they suffered underfunding in comparison to others.

The Chairperson:
May I ask the Minister when he will submit a paper to the Executive on his next steps? The departmental paper says that he intends to submit a paper some time in the future. Some think he has been very slow to do that. When will that be done?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
Until now, I have met no one who thinks I have been slow to do that. I intend to do it in the new year.

The Chairperson:
Will that be in January?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I do not know whether it will be in January or February, but it will be early in the new year.

Mr McCartney:
May I clarify something? Point 4 of the Minister’s briefing document states that the UK has now recognised obligations to Ulster Scots. According to that document, Ulster Scots has Part Two status and Irish has Part Three. However, I understand that Irish is both a Part Two and a Part Three language.

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I think a language must attain Part Two before it gets Part Three, is that not correct?

Mr McCausland:
Part Three encapsulates Part Two. Part Three is an amplification of Part Two.

Mr McCartney:
That may be, but in reality — [Interruption.]

I am merely asking for clarification. Members should settle themselves. The Minister is here to answer questions.

[Interruption.]

The Chairperson:
Order. Francie Brolly and Dominic Bradley may make the final points.

Mr Brolly:
When does the Minister intend to introduce an Irish language Act, so that there is parity between Wales, Scotland and the North of Ireland?

The Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure:
I do not intend to do so.

Mr D Bradley:
If the Minister’s approach is totally non-prescriptive, there will be different levels of commitment across the Departments, and we will end up with a mishmash. If he will not allocate any extra resources, there will be no new development.

I cannot see any room for new innovation. It seems to be a case of simply rearranging the deckchairs.

With regard to the point about depoliticising language, when language legislation was introduced in Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, the issue was no longer contentious and it became depoliticised. If Irish language legislation were introduced here, Irish would become a normal part of everyday life, and it would be totally depoliticised.

The Chairperson:
Thank you for coming along today. I understand that some officials are staying for the next item.

Mr McCarthy:
Can I ask the Minister about the safety at sports grounds strategy?

The Chairperson:
The Minister’s officials are coming to the Committee next week to discuss safety at sports grounds, and we expect it to be a substantive engagement.

Mr Shannon:
It may not be as substantive as this meeting, but we may reach some agreement.

Mr K Robinson:
Are we going to say do widzenia to the Minister?

The Chairperson:
I was going to say go n-éirí an bother leat.

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