I cannot give an accurate figure for the number of people who speak it in Northern Ireland and, indeed, in Border counties. Coming from Donegal, I recognise the importance of the Ulster-Scots language to sections of the people along the east Donegal border with Northern Ireland. I do not have an in-depth knowledge of the language but I have had the opportunity to listen to it and to spend time in the company of people who speak it regularly and I know they have a rich cultural heritage in music, song, dance and the language itself. There is a bimonthly newspaper that I always look forward to that is published both in English and Ulster-Scots. The language is more vibrant in some parts of Northern Ireland than others. In the east of the Province, if I can put it that way, along Antrim and Down, it is very prominent but it is to be found in every part of Northern Ireland and along Border counties, in Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan and perhaps Louth.
The Ulster-Scots Agency has a board, four of whom are nominated by the Government and four by the Northern Executive. The board lays down policy and appoints a chief executive. We meet the board regularly and last Friday, on my way home from Dublin, I had the opportunity of attending a function in the hall in Raphoe where a play was being staged about the effect of partition from the Ulster-Scots perspective, and how it divided a family in east Donegal in 1924.
The Minister and I had the pleasure of visiting their headquarters in Belfast a number of weeks ago and we were very impressed with what is going on there. I had the privilege and pleasure of opening a new office for the Ulster-Scots Agency in Raphoe, the entrance of which is from the street. That fine office is frequented by many people on a daily and weekly basis.
The language is an important part of what makes us up and I believe we must give it parity of esteem. That is what it is all about. The Ulster-Scots language is as important to those who speak it as the Irish language is to us.