Irish Language: Funding
Private Members’ Business
Roy Beggs (UUP)
The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.
I beg to move
That this Assembly notes with concern the effects that the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge will have on Irish language organisations; expresses concern about the nature of the consultation process; and calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to review these proposals in view of her Department’s emerging Irish language strategy.
Go raibh míle maith agat, LeasCheann Comhairle. Éirím leis an rún a mholadh: rún atá iontach tábhachtach, dar liomsa; rún faoin tionchar a bheas ag an tSamhail Nua Mhaoinithe, atá molta ag Foras na Gaeilge, ar na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge, thuaidh agus theas. Ba mhaith liom díriú ach go háirithe ins an díospóireacht seo ar na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge anseo sa Tuaisceart. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the impact of the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge on Irish language organisations and to ask the Minister to review the proposals in the light of her emerging Irish language strategy.
The support infrastructure for the Irish language in Northern Ireland is relatively young. Most of it has been developed only within the last 12 years. A critical part of that infrastructure is a small voluntary sector with around 20 people employed in it, which is core funded by Foras na Gaeilge. The sector’s work includes educational resources for Irish-medium schools; support for preschool education; cross-community initiatives; community development; a radio service; and advocacy for the Irish language community.
Under Foras na Gaeilge’s current proposals — the new funding model — most of those organisations will cease to exist as they will be disqualified from applying for core funding. They, and the voluntary sector in the Republic, will be replaced by a small number of all-island organisations, which will be chosen on the basis of competitive tender. The new funding model is, in part, a response to the straitéis fiche bliain — the 20-year strategy for the Irish language in the South. It is also a response to the economic situation. Foras na Gaeilge’s funding has been severely cut, and most of the organisations have lost up to 25% of their funding since 2008. We are told that the cuts are likely to continue. Foras na Gaeilge has argued that its process reflects the need to rationalise the sector.
Tá an earnáil deonach Gaeilge iontach soiléir faoi thionchar na samhala nua seo – déanfaidh sé damáiste don earnáil. The Irish-language voluntary sector in Northern Ireland is very clear that the new funding proposals, if implemented, will have a devastating effect on the small and fragile support infrastructure that has been developed to date. It is important to state that the sector is not opposed to change — nor, indeed, is it blind to the need for cuts — but it does not support the new funding model.
De réir mar a chuaigh an próiseas comhairlúcháin chun tosaigh is amhlaidh go raibh go leor gearán fá dtaobh de As the consultation process has progressed — and there have been many complaints about that process — it has become abundantly apparent that the new funding model is opposed, not only by the Irish-language voluntary sector but by eminent linguistic scholars, Dáil Committees and the Irish-language media, as well as by almost everyone who attended public meetings organised by Foras na Gaeilge across the island.
. I do not have the time to go into each matter in great detail, but I will highlight some of the critical issues during the course of the debate. They relate to the funding model itself, the proposed all-island structures, our own Executive policy and due process, and, indeed, good practice.
Níl an t-am agamsa inniu dul isteach in achan mhionsonra ach déanfaidh mé iarracht na hábhair a phlé ins an díospóireacht seo. The Irish-language voluntary sector argues that a competitive funding model will commercialise the sector, narrowing its range of activities. It will stifle innovation, undermine voluntary input and undermine the independence of the sector, thereby severely curtailing its advocacy role. When the representatives of the sector attended the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, they argued that it could lead to a loss of skilled and experienced personnel as well as the wealth of contacts and reputations they have built up over the years. It will also mean that proposed job contracts will be for three years, and employees will have to reapply at the bottom of the scale for each competitive cycle. They pointed to numerous research papers on competitive funding from Britain, Australia and America.
All of those consistently highlighted the defects of this model and argued strongly in favour of core funding for voluntary organisations.
Is fearr ar ndóigh an cur chuige uile-oileánda i gcuid mhór cásanna ach tá eisceachtaí tábhachtacha ann. The Irish-language voluntary sector —
Gregory Campbell (Shadow Minister (International Development); DUP)
If the Member could set aside just for a second the merits or demerits of the case that he is making; does he think that he advances the cause of the Irish language by interspersing Irish throughout his contribution while moving the motion, when most of us in the Chamber and outside do not understand the language and do not know what he is talking about other when he speaks Irish in addition to the contributory opening line that he would normally use? Does he think that interspersing his comments constantly with Irish when most of us do not understand what he is saying advances his case?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an chomhalta as an phointe a rinne sé ansin. I thank the Member for his intervention, and I will take the time to explain to him that, in all cases, I have translated what I have said, so it is open to you to understand it if you chose to. That is in accordance with the Standing Orders of the House, and, as you know from past experience, I would not dare breach them. We will move on, Mr Deputy Speaker.
As I said, the Irish-language voluntary sector North and South agrees that certain functions are best carried out on an all-island basis. It also agrees that, due to different constitutional, legal, administrative, social, political and socio-linguistic circumstances of the two jurisdictions, other functions are best carried out on a jurisdictional basis. The sector argues that the original decision to reorganise it on an all-island basis was beneficial but not in every case. Although Foras na Gaeilge has now allowed for two schemes to operate on a jurisdictional basis, it has not followed through on the implications of these precedents.
The Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme for Government, which has been agreed by all five parties, has made a commitment to strategies for Irish and Ulster Scots. It seems inconceivable and contrary to good practice that any attempts should be made to restructure the Irish-language sector in Northern Ireland in a policy vacuum before the Executive’s strategy has been developed and agreed.
I am sorry; I cannot on this occasion, as I have still material to cover.
Foras na Gaeilge acknowledges that its restructuring programme is directly linked to the 20-year strategy for Irish in the South. Indeed, the restructuring was announced only days after that policy was introduced. The strategy applies to the South but does not apply to the North. It appears that Northern Ireland is marginal to Foras na Gaeilge’s consideration, and this perception is reinforced by the fact that all versions of the new funding model, including the most recent one, have entirely ignored the cross-community priority clearly identified in the Programme for Government.
That priority refers to language strategies:
“building relationships between communities...unlocking the potential of the culture, arts and leisure sectors as instruments for positive change. Additionally, it seeks...to advance social cohesion and integration.”
Michelle McIlveen (DUP)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on today’s private Members’ motion on the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge. I would like to outline briefly the Committee’s consideration of the issue.
On 9 June 2011, the Committee received a briefing from DCAL and Foras na Gaeilge on the proposed funding model and details of the second consultation that ran from March to June 2011. Members considered concerns raised by the previous Committee about the limited nature of the first consultation and the fact that the guidelines for conducting an equality impact assessment (EQIA) and a regulatory impact assessment had not been followed.
The Committee shared those concerns and raised them with DCAL officials and Foras na Gaeilge on 9 June 2011. Members expressed concern that a full EQIA has not been undertaken and asked for an explanation for that decision and details of the screening process. Members also questioned why a regulatory impact assessment had still not been undertaken.
The Department later confirmed that an RIA would be undertaken by Foras na Gaeilge as the proposals would have a direct impact on the voluntary sector, and that was welcomed by the Committee. The Committee agreed to a further briefing on the outcome of the consultation on 15 September 2011and also invited the Irish-language core-funded group to brief the Committee on 22 September 2011, on its concerns about the proposed funding scheme and the consultation process. Officials briefed the Committee on the outcome of the consultation on 15 September 2011, and the consultation had asked the public to report on four key recommendations. Members learned that all four recommendations had been rejected by Irish-language groups in Northern Ireland. That was confirmed on 22 September by the Irish-language core-funded group, which highlighted deficiencies in the process and said that the guidelines for conducting an EQIA and RIA and the consultation were not followed.
The Committee wrote to the Minister, on 26 September 2011, about the concerns of the Irish-language core-funded groups, the consultation process, the RIA and the EQIA. The Committee asked the Minister to refrain from making any decisions on the proposals put forward by Foras na Gaeilge until proper consultation with the sector had been taken. The Committee has followed closely the developments in relation to the consultations on the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge and, following the decision by the NSMC last October to undertake a further consultation to address the concerns raised about the consultation process, the Committee invited officials to provide an update on 26 April 2012.
The Committee continues to take an interest in the issue and has requested that DCAL and Foras na Gaeilge report to it on the outcome of this consultation in due course.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom ar dtús a rá gurb é mo bharúil gur tháinig an rún seo roim an Tionól níos mó ná giota beag ró-luath. Tá gá le díospóireacht a dhéanamh go deimhin ach caithfidh muid fanacht leis an phróiseas comhairliúcháin ag an am chéanna.
I am very pleased to speak on this matter today and, indeed, very proud that issues relating to the Irish language are being discussed in the Chamber. I have some concerns about the motion. I consider it pre-emptive and slightly premature. We see that reflected in the wording of the motion, in that the new funding model is described as “proposed” and the Department’s strategy as “emerging”. It is my contention that we are discussing this much too early, and I thank the Chair of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure—
Gabhaim buíochas leis an chomhalta as mé a ligint isteach anseo. I thank the Member for giving way. Does he not agree with me that it is much better to be pre-emptive than to wait until it is too late? If we want to influence these decisions, we must enter the debate early and effectively. Go raibh maith agat.
The Member knows that there have been a number of previous consultations. When the current Minister took office, those were in a state of chaos. I praise the current Minister for her efforts to rectify that.
A process of consultation is exactly that: we should take on board what all the stakeholders and interested parties say and have said. That has been reflected very much in a number of the consultation meetings and workshops that we in Sinn Féin, members of the Committee and others have carried out with many of the groupings. It is certainly no reflection on any of the groupings.
I declare an interest as someone who has worked with most of the groupings over my working life, including Altram, which deals with the preschool sector; Comhaltas Uladh, of which I am a former member; Iontaobhas ULTACH, which is delivered through the Ciste Craolacháin, which, of course, I was part of; and other groupings such as Forbairt Feirste, Pobal and Radió Fáilte, on which I once had a slot, but that was a few years ago.
As I said earlier, the Minister has brought some sort of form and shape to the consultation, and I praise her for that. We listened to and took on board all the worries and concerns that many of the groupings have. That is reflected in the extension of the funding to June 2013 and the putting in place of an RIA and an EQIA. The matter will come back to the North/South Ministerial Council — the Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh/Theas — by July. For us to —
William Humphrey (DUP)
I am grateful to the Member for giving way. Earlier in his contribution, he mentioned the SDLP motion, which talks about proposed funding for Foras na Gaeilge. Like Mr Bradley, the Member is much more eminently involved in and has more knowledge of the subject than me. It is my understanding that 75% of the funding for Foras na Gaeilge comes from the Irish Government and 25% from the Northern Ireland Government, and the reverse is the case for Ulster Scots. Perhaps the Minister, in her response, can say whether the problem is the funding from the Irish Government, who are so economically strapped at the moment as a member of the euro zone.
The Minister might address that later in the debate. You will appreciate that the funding is also reflective of the number of groupings and the people involved.
I look forward to the consultation’s publication. I can probably expect and predict some of the answers. There is concern among the Irish language sector, but it has perhaps never been stronger than it is now. Look at the development of the number of naíscoilanna, bunscoilanna and meánscoilanna right across the North. The support services have to be in place in the education sector and the community sector. A lot of the voluntary organisations in the community sector are delivering those services on the ground. We look at places such as Carn Tóchair, which was fully an Irish-speaking area until the census of 1911. A large percentage of the people there spoke Irish. We are now looking at a small rural community in which there are over 250 Irish speakers who work, live and carry out their daily lives through the medium of Irish. I commend them on that, and I commend Foras na Gaeilge’s funding for the project.
I return to my central position, which is that the motion is probably premature. It is pre-emptive. If I were to be sceptical about it —
Michael McGimpsey (UUP)
As has been indicated, Foras na Gaeilge is not an independent fiefdom but part of the North/South Language Body and, as such, is answerable to the North/South Ministerial Council in language format. There will always be a unionist Minister at those meetings, so a veto exists as far as unionism is concerned. It is more than simply an academic exercise when it comes to funding for Gaelic.
I was surprised to hear Mr Ó hOisín say that the current Minister was sorting out the chaos that she inherited. I was not aware that you had been provided with chaos when the portfolio was handed over from the previous Minister. I am sure that he would take a contrary view to the Member’s. We are all aware that core funding is key for organisations that bid for funding, whether it be for Ulster Scots, Gaelic or any other form of funding. If organisations get core funding, they then have continuity and confidence to plan. They do not spend most of their time, as many groups do, wondering what the next funding round will provide for them and lobbying and working for that funding.
So, I am not sure about the notion that we had chaos and that this will sort out that chaos.
Core funding is always the way for voluntary and community groups to go forward, if at all possible, to give them that confidence and continuity. Therefore, I am not clear about the argument as to why we will go on to a new funding model. That has to be developed, but, clearly, as has been indicated, the Committee has concerns and the Irish language groups have concerns. I sat in the Minister’s chair at one stage, and I am reminded that we are empowered, where appropriate and where people so desire, to take resolute action to promote the language and facilitate and encourage its use, and it appears that, in this constituency, the people do not desire that type of change of arrangement. The Irish language is 75% funded by the Dublin Government, and that Government will have a major say in this. Similarly, Ulster Scots is 75% funded by the Northern Ireland Executive. So, it is not simply a matter for this House but a matter that requires consensus and working by agreement.
I listened to Mr Bradley, and I have always considered him to be something of an expert in the area. He certainly appears to have a vocabulary and a grasp of the language that most people in this House do not have. I heard Mr Campbell ask him whether he was really making his case by speaking in Gaelic first before speaking in English. That is not a problem that most of us provide Mr Campbell with. I have listened to the discussion, and we have to tread carefully and with caution if we are to change this after a number of years. The promotion of Gaelic has been successful, and that is one of the successes of the cross-border body. We need to be very careful that we do not lose the support of the constituency by introducing a funding model that may well be driven by budget problems in Dublin. If Dublin has those budget problems, it has to be honest with us and make that case.
The issue still has to be fully explored. I am not fully across all the issues, and it is a developing argument. Someone said that the motion is premature and pre-emptive; I am not sure that it is either of those, but it is a discussion that we can usefully continue.
Trevor Lunn (Alliance)
I have listened with interest to the contributions so far, particularly from the Irish-speaking side of the House. As a non-Irish speaker and a non-member of the Committee, I feel a bit like Mr McGimpsey in that I am not totally across the issues. So, most of what I will say will be by way of observation and impression rather than facts, and I am sure that if I say something completely wrong, somebody will jump up and correct me.
Frankly, I am always impressed by the interest and commitment of those who are involved in the Irish language movement and the ongoing project to widen its use in everyday speech and conversation. Mr Ó hOisín mentioned the education perspective, and it has been well proven that learning an additional language at an early age is stimulating and beneficial to our children. That is accepted at home and across Europe. My grandson started to learn Spanish in primary 2, and he knows more Spanish than I do now. So, I support the promotion of Irish-medium schools as one of Foras na Gaeilge’s activities, if there is a strong parental demand for it.
I will turn to Foras na Gaeilge and today’s motion. What little I know about the organisation indicates that the review of the funding model is to be welcomed — it is long overdue — provided that it is done properly. My impression is that the organisation has been allowed to do its own thing with funding from both Governments with, perhaps, precious little supervision or accountability. They appear to have funded certain bodies by block grants without due regard to how effectively the money has been used, while, at grass-roots level, it seems to be generally accepted that local projects doing really good work on language promotion and development and showing real creativity and energy receive only about one sixth of the total funding that is channelled to the core-funded groups under the present system. My impression is that, under the new model, it will be easier and quicker for projects to access funds, and that the money will, in theory at least, follow the action and will result in enthusiasm and good practice being rewarded.
I also hear from Irish speakers that there is a need to regenerate and revitalise the geographical areas of language activity so that they fit into the context of a national language planning model, ensuring that where Irish-speaking communities exist, they are active and vibrant and not just nominal Gaeltacht areas where there is little or no real attention paid to the subject. I understand that there are two Gaeltacht areas in Belfast, which exist in name only. I spend quite a bit of time in Donegal, in the Fanad peninsula, which, apparently, is also a Gaeltacht area, but I have yet to hear anyone speak in Irish when I am up there, sometimes for weeks at a time. That is not meant to be a criticism, but we need to direct the funds to where the action is or where the potential is. There is not much point in having a Gaeltacht area if nobody speaks Gaelic.
We will have to listen with interest to the rest of the debate before we decide whether we will support the motion. I will say, however, as an outsider, that I like the look of the proposed new structure for Foras na Gaeilge. I listened to Mr Bradley’s criticisms of it, but as an outsider looking in it seems to me to be more modern, active and reactive, and the organisation will hopefully be more accountable to its funders and the taxpayers, North and South.
I note that the Northern Ireland Government has invested 25% of the overall funding, but over the years, only between 16% and 22% of that money has found its way back to the North. I also note the feeling that the needs of the Irish-medium sector in the North are different from those in the Republic, a fact, perhaps, that is not always recognised by Foras na Gaeilge. I hope that whatever changes are finally agreed will be introduced gradually, as it is important not to lose the expertise and experience that is available in organisations which, although they will have to change — as Mr Bradley said, some of them may disappear — are decades older than Foras na Gaeilge itself and have a lot to offer.
I am not fully conversant with the overall existing structures, but there is Plean 2030 and plans for a national language planning and implementation unit, so a co-ordinated and sensitive approach is what is needed. I hope that Foras na Gaeilge gets it right and that it does not rush things.
Tá mé iontach sásta a bheith ag labhairt anseo inniu. It is important that we look at the background of this process and its aims. It is to improve the delivery of services to the Irish-language community and to the broader English-speaking community, and of course, to ensure better value for money, given the current economic climate. That is essential. However, what we are really looking for is the effective delivery of Foras na Gaeilge’s statutory obligations. Those of us who support the promotion of the language should support those objectives.
The review has been undertaken, among other reasons, because of the increasing amount of core funding that is being spent on wages. In 2008, 50·48% was spent on wages. In 2010, it was 53% and in 2011 it was 59%. This year, there is a 9% reduction in Foras na Gaeilge’s budget and there will be a 3% reduction over each of the next three years. That is unsustainable. Of course we want to protect jobs in the Irish-language sector, but Foras na Gaeilge’s main purpose, along with other Irish-language groups, is to promote the use of the Irish language. It is not to protect jobs, although we do want to protect jobs. No one could possibly disagree that funding to Foras needs to produce results in the promotion of the language, and that it should not just be used for wages and administration. Let us take a look at the consultation process.
Robin Swann (UUP)
On a point of clarification, if that is the purpose of Foras and the other language bodies, will the Member comment on the Minister’s Líofa project? How will assigning additional DCAL moneys in the region of £30,000 to that project enhance the work of Foras and the other language bodies? Does it not place the project in competition with their work?
I thank the Member for his intervention. The Líofa project opens another channel, or avenue, through which people can be enticed to engage with the Irish language community. It is separate from what Foras can do. I am not saying that, on occasions, there will not be overlaps. However, I argue that there is no duplication, and that Líofa stands on its own as a separate project.
“expresses concern about the nature of the consultation process” .
The current consultation process began in January 2012 and ended on 2 April. That was a new consultation process, after the previous process had provoked quite a bit of criticism last year. I am not here to defend the Minister — she is quite capable of doing that herself — but, as a result of that criticism, she initiated a second consultation process.
The motion also focuses on the new funding model proposed by Foras. However, if Members check the summary of the funding model in the consultation document put out by Foras na Gaeilge, they will see that the consultation process was based on the content of the draft schemes rather than the funding model. Importantly, the consultation also suggested that recommendations for other methods for funding the Irish language could be mentioned by respondents. Therefore, according to Foras, the funding model is not set in stone. I also note that the Hansard report of the meetings between the Department, representatives of Foras na Gaeilge and the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure shows that it was stated clearly that all options would be looked at and considered. Contrary to what Dominic said about the draft schemes having no basis in academic or socio-linguistic policy, when Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh appeared before the Committee he stated, in response to him, that:
“The schemes are based on the internationally recognised language-planning principles of status, acquisition and usage of the language.”
Therefore, there is, at least, some dispute about the draft schemes.
Go raibh míle maith agat. Gabhaim buíochas leis an chomhalta as mé a ligint isteach anseo. I thank the Member for giving way. The Member is right about what Mr Mac an Fhailigh said about the language schemes. However, what Mr Mac an Fhailigh failed to mention was that in Wales, where those types are schemes are used, they are used by core-funded organisations. That is an important difference.
Jim Wells (DUP)
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. During the contribution from the honourable Member for West Belfast, he referred to the honourable Member for Newry and Armagh as “Dominic”. I think what he meant to say was “Mr Bradley”. I notice that that error is creeping back into proceedings in the House and that Members are referring to each other by their Christian names. That is totally unparliamentary, and I am sure that, if that trend were to continue, the Deputy Speaker would wish to pull other Members up on that.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I applaud my colleague Mr Bradley for securing this important debate on behalf of the Irish language sector.
The preservation and promotion of the Irish language is a priority for the SDLP, which is why we want to ensure that any change to the funding model of Irish language organisations does not have a negative impact on the Irish language. Foras na Gaeilge, which is the arm’s-length body for DCAL that administers funding to the Irish language organisations, wishes to implement proposals that will move the funding structure away from being core-funding-based to being a competitive application process for the three-year period. I have serious reservations about the proposals, as do the 19 organisations that currently receive core funding.
As a party, we recognise the significant contribution that the 19 core-funding organisations have made, and continue to make, to enhance and encourage the use of the Irish language. These organisations have employees with the specialised skills and expertise that are necessary to continue to deliver a high level of service to the Irish language community and the wider English-speaking community.
William Humphrey (DUP)
I thank the Member for giving way. As the Member has heard in the debate, this is a cross-border issue. Obviously, 75% of the funding comes from the Government of the Irish Republic. Has your party made representations to the Irish Government around these issues?
We will meet the Minister in the near future about the issues that you have raised.
It is worth noting that these organisations strongly oppose the proposed new funding model and firmly believe that its implementation would not only disadvantage their organisations but could be detrimental to the Irish language sector.
The second consultation on the new funding model, which was conducted on the recommendation of the North/South Ministerial Council, ran for 12 weeks and concluded on 2 April 2012. The CEO for Foras na Gaeilge informed the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure of the methods used by Foras na Gaeilge to interact with the necessary organisations. As part of that, he has held individual meetings; the document is on his organisation’s website; there were public consultations; focus groups for the young were set up etc. It cannot be denied that Foras na Gaeilge has ticked many of the boxes during the further consultation process. However, I am concerned that, although it may have heard the concerns and reservations of the groups involved, Foras na Gaeilge is not listening to them. This view has been reinforced by the suggestion that Foras na Gaeilge will only consider the content of written submissions.
At one meeting, the core-funding organisations strongly urged Foras na Gaeilge to return to what the Irish language organisations termed square one. The groups are of the opinion that further research and information-gathering are required. They feel that not enough research was done prior to the funding model being put forward. The return-to-square-one proposal was accepted by all the core-funding organisations as the key proposal to arise from the meeting. It is essential that Foras na Gaeilge not only hears the views of the core-funded organisations but takes them into consideration before making its final decisions. If it does not do so, the consultation process will have been pointless, reaffirming the groups’ feeling that a decision has already been made.
Another concern expressed by the Irish language organisations is in regard to the timescale for implementing the new funding model and how it will impact on them. I understand that Foras na Gaeilge has prepared a project plan to begin a competitive-funding model from July 2013 and that the North/South Ministerial Council has agreed to extend interim funding to core-funding organisations until 30 June 2013. I urge the Minister to work with Foras na Gaeilge to extend the funding period for core-funding organisations beyond 30 June 2013, to prevent further instability and uncertainty.
Pobal has stated that, without such an extension, the necessary evidence base for various proposals cannot be put in place. Organisations will be forced to reorganise and apply, if they are not disqualified for funding under the new proposals, during or before the adoption of the finalised strategic proposals for the Irish language in the North. It is envisaged that this will disadvantage North-based core-funding organisations and undermine the implementation of the Irish language strategy. A further extension to core funding, by at least six months or a year, would allow the public to comment on the DCAL strategic proposals, the Executive to give their response and Foras na Gaeilge to carry out the necessary groundwork on revised funding models, without this being done in a “done deal” atmosphere among the core-funding organisations.
Considering the concerns expressed by the Irish language organisations regarding the consultation process, the suggested timeline and the consequences that this change could have on the proposed Irish language strategy, I call on the Minister to review these proposals. We must do what we can to protect, preserve and promote the Irish language sector.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom buíochas a thabhairt don bhall fá choinne an rúin. I thank the Members for tabling the motion, and it is important to debate how Foras na Gaeilge funds the Irish-language sector and, indeed, to discuss the progress that is being made by Foras na Gaeilge towards implementing the recommendations from the review of core funding.
As the Chair of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure said, a departmental official and the CEO and deputy of Foras na Gaeilge updated the Committee on 26 April 2012. It will be useful if I recap the background to the process so far. Most Members have alluded to the fact that, in April 2006, Foras na Gaeilge undertook a review of core funding. The main recommendations were that core funding for the Irish-language sector be reconfigured and, indeed, that applications be invited from one or a limited number of organisations, with representational information about dissemination, resource support and information on the role of the sector. Those recommendations were endorsed by the North/South Ministerial Council.
The current proposal is that funding will be awarded by way of a number of discrete schemes that will allow local groups to take an integrated approach to the promotion of the Irish language, including working in the community with family, educational and youth settings. Foras na Gaeilge engaged with the 19 core-funded groups, and that engagement included a public consultation on the proposed changes. The consultation closed in June 2011. A steering group, comprising senior officials from both sponsor Departments and the chair and senior executives of Foras na Gaeilge, was established to review progress towards implementation of that review.
Members have mentioned that concerns that have been raised by a number of the groups. We listened to those concerns and brought them to the North/South Ministerial Council meeting in sectoral format. Following further discussions at the NSMC, we agreed that interim funding should continue to be provided by Foras na Gaeilge to the 19 core-funded groups until 30 June 2012. At a further NSMC meeting on 12 October 2011, we requested that Foras na Gaeilge engage in further consultation on the draft schemes. That is evidence of government listening to the concerns of groups. It is necessary to prepare the detail of the business case in support of the draft schemes, which included an updated RIA, and to prepare a revised project plan in conjunction with the sponsor Departments. From looking at the sequence of events, it is clear that Ministers had not taken any decisions about the future funding arrangements of the Irish-language sector by that date.
That is where Cathal has a point. Dominic has every right, as any Member does, to bring any motion to the Floor of the House. I support that right, and I am delighted, as Cathal and others have expressed, that a motion has been tabled on the future proposals for funding of the Irish language. I do think that it is a bit premature, but it is better having the debate than looking for it. I have absolutely no difficulty —
Jim Wells (DUP)
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. That was an absolutely disgraceful remark that was made by the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to someone who was making a very valid point. I ask her to consider her comments and withdraw them.
I hear what the Member had to say in making his point, but I have a lot to get through. Dominic, in fairness, has had several interventions from other Members. At this stage, I am not prepared to take an intervention. I will certainly not be reminded about the manners and courtesies of this House by someone like Jim Wells.
The points that Dominic raised on any proposed funding model for the Irish language are well made. It is about the long-term planning of the language and ensuring that the results of the consultation will dovetail with the 20-year strategy that has been developed by the Irish Government and, indeed, with any future strategy that will be introduced by the Executive through my Department as a result of the Programme for Government. I fully accept that. I also fully accept that it is all-Ireland in nature, but there are nuances for different groups depending on their work and their ability to reach out and bring people to the language who would not normally have that opportunity.
Pat Sheehan and other Members raised this. Indeed, Michelle McIlveen, the Chair of the Committee, outlined the whole process and the concerns of the group when it met the Committee that there was not an equality impact assessment or an RIA. The words and assurances of officials and Foras na Gaeilge that that would be included in the next consultation were accepted, and it was. At the end of the day, these very important issues were raised for a very important reason: to make sure that any adverse impact on the sector and the language was considered. That should be the case with all consultations.
Cathal Ó hOisín spoke about groups like Carn Tóchair, which I have met on several occasions, as I have met other core-funded organisations about their work. Other Members mentioned that. It is concerning that there is a lack of either understanding or appreciation of the direction that me, Jimmy Deenihan and Dinny McGinley are going in. William Humphrey raised in an intervention the funding split between Foras na Gaeilge and Ulster Scots. I am sure that he has since received the information. Within that funding set-up there is a concern and an appreciation about support for long-term Irish language planning. Support for the groups is part of that planning for their core funding arrangements. I accept that fully. I have absolutely no doubt that those concerns were articulated in the many consultation responses, which are on Foras na Gaeilge’s website. I imagine that those concerns will be raised as part of any proposals that will be brought forward.
I also accept that there are huge concerns about the salaries and overheads in comparison with the money that is being spent on proposals and programmes that help develop the language. I think that we need to try to get a healthier balance. I do not think that any Member would disagree. It is important that that is taken into consideration, and we will look at that and every other issue that has been raised throughout the debate. In fact, I will share the Hansard report of this debate with my colleagues in the Irish Government.
Michael McGimpsey is not in his place, which is unfortunate, but the chaos that my colleague referred to, to be factual, is really around how the accounts have been brought forward through the NSMC sectoral meeting. The Member left before I could say that that happened on his watch. In turn, every Culture Minister has inherited that chaos because he did not sign off on accounts that had an impact on every one of us who came behind him. That, I assume, is the chaos that Cathal was referring to.
At the end of the day, this is a very important subject. It is important for the future development and protection of the language, and, as Trevor Lunn said, for educational development, including preschool and post-primary. The Irish language sector has continued to grow, and people are very passionate about and committed to it. They are not dogmatic; they are asking us to make sure that they are supported and resourced as a matter of right. That is done through my Department as a matter of responsibility, and it is a statutory duty. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Pat Sheehan and other Members outlined the need and the desire for the Government to listen to the concerns out there, but also to listen to those concerns in a balanced way and to ensure that no decisions are made that will reduce the sustainability or viability of the long-term development of the language. I hear that, and I am absolutely delighted to hear that the SDLP is meeting the Irish Government to talk about its concerns about the Irish language. That is fit and proper.
We have not made any reduction to our budget, notwithstanding the award that was made as part of the new mandate, with the 3% reduction over that period.
Other than that, I have not reduced, and will not reduce, any funding for either Foras na Gaeilge or the Ulster-Scots community within those guidelines.
The CAL Committee, as its Chair and others have outlined, will get an interim report, before the next sectoral meeting on languages, about the future and about what the broad strokes of the consultation were. We will bring it forward to the next NSMC sectoral meeting for discussion, and it will then go forward to the sectoral meeting in the autumn with the business case for approval.
I do not think that any Member, regardless of the side of the House they sit on or their views about the language, can honestly and genuinely say that we did not take into consideration any concerns that were raised to our Department through this consultation or any other and act appropriately.
So, I welcome the debate. I welcome the tone of the debate and people’s commitment to, and genuine concerns for, the language. On the basis of that, I look forward to future debates on the language in a similar vein. Go raibh míle maith agat.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Mo bhuíochas leis na baill uilig a bhí rannpháirteach ins an díospóireacht. My particular thanks go to all Members who participated in this debate. The Minister did a good part of the wind for me, but I am sure that she will forgive me if I recycle a number of the issues.
Mo chomhghleacaí anseo, Dominic Ó Brolcháin, thóg sé rudaí faoi leith; cuir i gcás an fiche faoin gcéad den airgead a bhí gearrtha agus an earnáil dheonach agus an damáiste atá á dhéanamh dóibh siúd i dtaobh na teanga. He spoke about the cutbacks of 25% of the money and the potential for damage to the voluntary sector in particular. He talked about how much go raibh an oiread sin gearán faoin dóigh a ndearnadh an comhairliúchán. There were so many complaints about the way in which the consultation was done. I will talk more about that later. He moved on to talk about funding models, proposed all-island structures and the consideration of aspects of the funding, particularly referring to and drawing from the experience of the United States and Australia. He re-emphasised that core funding is central to voluntary organisations. I am particularly glad that Mr McGimpsey picked up on that point too, because it is central to the debate that we are having here.
Michelle McIlveen, as Chairperson of the CAL Committee, referred to the consultation exercises and the fact that the four recommendations were rejected by all the Irish language groups in Northern Ireland. She referred in particular to rud a chuireann diomá ormsa, is é sin nach ndearnadh na ceannlínte – treoirlínte, gabh mo leithscéal – a leanúint i dtaobh próisis chóir nó cleachtadh ceart ó thaobh forbairt polasaí de. They did not particularly follow guidelines on due process or good practice in policy development, particularly in regard to the EQIA and regulatory impact assessment.
We moved on agus chuala mé Cathal Ó hOisín ansin agus bhí sé ag rá arís eile i dtaobh an phróisis chomhairliúcháin. Ach dúirt sé rud éigin. He referred in particular to the consultation process, but he said that the motion was pre-emptive and premature. You can never be pre-emptive or premature about a core issue to the development of the Irish language. On this particular issue, whoever is responsible — I do not particularly care who is responsible — has been footering about with this for about two years. I do not know whether that is Ulster Scots or Irish.
It has been going on since 2009, which is over two years. The Irish language sector is delighted that this debate is taking place here today. This is where the debate should be taking place. Pre-emptive or not, the debate has to take place here through the elected representatives and through the Minister so that we can add some focus to this discussion and eventually try to get things sorted out in regard to promotion of the language.
Go raibh maith agat as mé a ligint isteach. Thanks for giving way to me. The point was made that the motion was premature and pre-emptive. The fact is that this motion has been on the list of no-day-named motions since September. So, we can hardly be accused of rushing to bring it forward. We waited until a strategic time, and I believe that this is the strategic time to debate it.
Go raibh maith agat féin, Dominic. Go raibh maith agat as sin. Agus arís eile, chuala mé an tUasal McGimpsey ag rá gur saineolaí thú. When we were listening to the debate, I heard Michael McGimpsey refer to Dominic as an expert in this field. I am sure he takes that as a compliment because he does cover his broad remit and discussions in these matters expertly, comprehensively and well. Go raibh maith agat as sin, Dominic.
Trevor Lunn referred to the fact that the debate was taking place. Of course, this is a debate about language acquisition and how best we can encourage and nurture people to acquire a language or even to improve on what language they have. You referred, of course, to the skill that children have to be multilingual at a very early age and that they adapt very readily and openly to that. It is brilliant to see that, and it is a reflection of a society that is maturing and recognises difference as something that can be enriching. Linguistic acquisition is great because it opens doors and understanding to people, and we are here today to, at least, contribute to that debate.
Pat Sheehan referred to the potential difficulties of cost and cuts in wages. He provided interesting insights and figures on the percentage spent on wages. He said that, of course, we want to protect jobs in the language sector and promote the use of the language.
Chímse, agus chonaic mé cuid mhaith den obair atá á déanamh ar an talamh i dtaobh na ndaoine atá fostaithe ins an earnáil seo, agus go háirithe na hoifigigh ag na comhairlí áitiúla atá ag déanamh sár-obair ó thaobh chur chun cinn na teanga de.
I have seen people who are employed in this sector and I have been party, in particular, to motions in Cookstown District Council, where we have seen language development officers who do excellent and sterling work in encouraging the language and involving more people in acquisition of the language and language-related activities. So, there is, as the Minister correctly says, a balance to be struck there.
Karen McKevitt referred to the core funding of organisations and that 19 organisations rely heavily on core funding. The funding models proposed would be disadvantageous to the development proposals of many of those organisations with regard to their consistency of development and the role they have in communities, which is paramount and uppermost in the promotion of the Irish language.
The Minister referred to the details of the core funding and commented on points made by Members. It is important that the Minister hears those. I am sure she is more than up to speed with what is happening.
A Aire, bhí rud beag diomá orm nuair a chuala mé go raibh do sháith agat cluinte as Dominic anseo, mo chara agus mo chomh-bhall den pháirtí.
I was a wee bit disappointed, Minister, that you said that you had heard enough from Dominic Bradley, my friend and colleague. I really do not think you could hear enough, seriously, on the promotion of the Irish language from Irish language speakers and those who are dedicated, and many of whom have dedicated their lives to the promotion of their language and culture. I know that Dominic, within the Assembly and wearing other hats, has spent a good part of his life teaching, writing about and promoting the language. So, really I am a bit disappointed, Minister, that you made that comment.
Concerns were raised about EQIAs and RIAs. Those are important issues. You referred as well, Minister, to the balance on the funding. At this point, however, in bringing forward the motion to the Assembly, we in the SDLP wanted to hear a bit more from DCAL as to what exactly is happening at that level. What proposals have been drawn up in the Department to nudge or push the process on a bit? I would have expected that the Minister would have come here today a bit better prepared with information so that we can reassure many of those groups —
This is where the premature aspect comes into it, Patsy. We have to look at the consultation process, what has been consulted on, the feedback on that and then bring it forward. I think it only right that we do that, and then give the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee its place, and then go to the sectoral meeting and then come back to the House. That is the process.
I can work with that. Tá tú ceart go leor. You are all right with me.
It would have seriously helped, Minister, had we heard today, for example, some detail of the correspondence or discussions you have had with your colleagues and other Ministers on the rest of the island. This is a delicate and difficult issue. Core funding has cropped up time and again as being central. I had anticipated some insight on the dialogue that has taken place with the Minister in the South as to how this can be advanced ar mhaithe leis an teanga féin, for the good of the Irish language. To be honest with you, I was anticipating a bit more than what we got, rather than a rerun of what other Members said in the Assembly today. I am not in any way suggesting that you breach protocol, but I expected some detail of those meetings with other Ministers as to how we can advance the cause.
I am asking other Members to support our motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes with concern the effects that the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge will have on Irish language organisations; expresses concern about the nature of the consultation process; and calls on the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure to review these proposals in view of her Department’s emerging Irish language strategy.