Irish and Ulster Scots: Funding and Parity

Oral Answers to Questions – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 am on 10th September 2007.

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Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 3:30 am, 10th September 2007

2. asked the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure what steps he is taking to (a) establish the overall levels of departmental funding for the Irish language and the Ulster-Scots cultural outlook in recent years; and (b) introduce measures to ensure parity exists for each.  (AQO 78/08)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My Department collates annual returns from all Northern Ireland Civil Service departments and the NIO on the linguistic diversity projects. That includes capital and resource funding for Irish-medium education, funding in Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture and Irish language projects, programmes, supported organisations and translations. In the 2006-07 financial year, the provisional funding figures for Irish language activities amounted to £17,064,000, with £639,000 for Ulster Scots. Funding to the North/South Language Body by my Department for 2007 will be £3·43 million, with £1·879 million for Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency respectively. The Northern Ireland Executive are committed to affording equal respect and recognition to the Ulster-Scots and Irish languages and to supporting the development of their respective cultural traditions. The funding provided to each reflects the differing range of projects, programmes and supported organisations.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Were I a satirist, I might begin my question to the Minister with the words, “Cora my Yogi Bear, a can coca colya.” However, setting humour to one side, the information provided by the Minister confirms what I established from the direct rule Minister last year — that the Irish language obtains 30 times more public funding than the Ulster-Scots cultural outlook. Given that that is the case, will the Minister confirm that the figures he has outlined to the Assembly today will be taken into account when he is deliberating on future budget allocations on the basis of parity for all of the people with a cultural outlook in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Funding for Irish and Ulster Scots is a cross-departmental matter. One of the issues is that almost £12 million is spent by the Department of Education on those matters. It is up to the Assembly and the relevant Committees to identify the appropriateness of that level of spending. I will take on board the issues that affect my Department but I ask Members to recognise that the current situation and circumstances are a result of decisions made by direct rule Ministers. There are people outside the House who said they wanted more of that type of activity. I want to equalise things and take them forward in a more balanced way. That is why we are in the House and that is why I am at this Table. I want a more equitable situation in Northern Ireland; others outside the House would prefer discrimination to continue.

Photo of Carmel Hanna Carmel Hanna Social Democratic and Labour Party

I ask the Minister to take into consideration, when he looks at the matter, the most recent census figures, which show that around 10% of the population of Northern Ireland speak the Irish language and only 2% speak Ulster Scots. I hope that those figures will be reflected in the allocation of resources.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

My Department must consider the value of the census. I could probably claim that I speak Irish because I can say a few words, but that does not make me a fluent Irish speaker. I am interested to know how many of those 10% could read and understand a document sent to them in Irish. If those people did not also receive a version in English, I wonder whether it would prevent them from acting as they had intended. That figure would better reflect the true need.