Thursday, 30 May 2013

Questions (11)

Charlie McConalogue


11. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funds, if any, that have been granted for the preservation of the Ulster-Scots dialect in 2011, 2012 and to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26117/13]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Arts)

By way of background, I should remind the Deputy that the Ulster-Scots Agency is an agency of one of the six implementation bodies established under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Therefore, the agency is accountable to the North-South Ministerial Council and to the Ministers in the sponsor Departments: the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland. The Ulster-Scots Agency is co-funded on the basis of 25% from my Department and 75% from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland. The North-South Ministerial Council approved an overall budget provision of €3,692,824 (£3,028,116) for 2011 and €3,251,103 (£2,828,460) for 2012 for the Ulster-Scots Agency.

While the 2013 business plans and budgets for the North-South Language Body are the subject of ongoing discussions between the sponsor Departments and will require formal approval by the North-South Ministerial Council, an overall allocation of €14.613 million has been allocated in the Revised Estimates for the North-South Language Body in 2013.

I am new to Ullans and Scots Gaelic so the Minister of State must forgive me. I understand that rather than recognising it as a language in the Good Friday Agreement, it was seen as part of the culture and wealth of Ireland as a whole. How many people speak the language on even an occasional basis? What sort of practical steps are being taken, using the funding being provided, to keep the language alive and to revive it? What method of evaluation does the implementation body apply to the expenditure of these funds?

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.

I would agree that the Ulster-Scots language is very much part of the rich cultural heritage of Ireland. Whether it is a language or a dialect is a debate that continues; there is no doubt about that.

I have one question on the Ulster-Scots Agency. My understanding is that the accounts of the Ulster-Scots Agency, or at least the combined accounts, have not been published for the past three years, and it seems there is a reason for the holding back of their publication by An Foras Teanga, which is the organisation for both the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge. Perhaps the Minister can shed some light on that and tell us how it will be solved.

I believe there was a review of the functionality of An Foras Teanga in 2008, which has not yet been published. The review of the functionality of both organisations has not been published for five years. If we are waiting five years for the publication of a functionality review, it does not bode well for the efficiency of that organisation.

I am delighted to report that there has been significant progress on the publication of accounts. Since the new chief executive took over in recent times, there has been a noticeable improvement. There will be consolidated reports and we expect them shortly, perhaps at the meeting that will be held within the next fortnight.

Deputy Tóibín's second question-----

I believe there was an organisational or functionality review of An Foras Teanga, which includes Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency, in 2008, which has not yet been published. Perhaps the Minister could look into it.

I am not so sure of the status of that report. I have not got a report on it here. Within the next fortnight, we will be able to query that at the next meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council, which is due to take place on 12 June.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
The Dáil adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 11 June 2013.