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Since the inception of the North/South Language Body in 2000, the amount of funding provided to the Ulster-Scots Agency and Foras na Gaeilge by my Department has been based on approved actions in the agencies’ business plans together with associated staffing costs. Since 2000, approximately £44 million has been allocated to Irish language projects and initiatives, and £16 million has been allocated to Ulster-Scots projects and initiatives. That includes funding to Ulster-Scots organisations and projects, such as the Ulster-Scots Agency and the Ulster-Scots academy implementation group.
Funding for Irish-language projects refers to Foras na Gaeilge, Colmcille, the Irish-language broadcast fund and the Gaeltacht Quarter. The figures do not include funding that is available from departmental mainstream programmes for projects that may have an Irish or Ulster-Scots language or cultural dimension that cannot be separated from the primary funding objective.
I am grateful for the Member’s posing a supplementary question that allows me to develop the theme of funding in the two instances. I outlined the funding that had been made over the past eight years, which indicated a disproportionate investment in Ulster Scots of only £16 million, while £44 million was spent on the Irish language. However, in the past three years the funding allocation from my Department for Ulster Scots has almost doubled from £1·5 million to £2·9 million. In the same period, the funding allocation from my Department to Irish has increased from £6·4 million to £6·8 million, an increase of 6%. There is some considerable way to go to get the parity that is required.
In other contexts, members of some political parties talk about the long term. I assure them and the honourable Member that I am in this for the long term and that the imbalance will be rectified. The disparity is not sustainable, and it cannot be defended, argued for or renegotiated. We are working to eliminate the disparity, and we have made significant progress. I intend to continue, and I hope that I will have the support of all honourable Members for eliminating that disadvantage.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Given the relatively higher status of the Irish language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the obviously greater level of participation and interest in the Irish language here, the Minister is incorrect in describing the relative amounts of funding as an imbalance. In fact, Sinn Féin contends that, because of that status and level of participation and interest, funding to the Irish language is not proportionate.
I thank the Member for his supplementary question. However, I am afraid that all that the question does is attempt to defend the indefensible. That cannot be done. The status of Irish and Ulster Scots is clear. Under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Irish language is in category 3, and Ulster Scots is in category 2. My aim and objective is to ensure that Ulster Scots attains the same level that the Irish language has. It could well be argued by Ulster-Scots groups — I hope that it is — that, in order to attain that status, they need additional funding, not less funding.
I hope that the honourable Member and those who believe in and support his view re-examine their position on the matter, just as they have had to re-examine their position in other contexts. To discriminate against Ulster Scots is indefensible and will not be tolerated by my Department. I intend to ensure that parity is achieved. I hope and expect that I will get support for that parity from all honourable Members.
It never ceases to amaze me that whenever nationalists put forward arguments for equality in different contexts, they simply demand it and dismiss as irrelevant all subject matter that attempts to explain why inequality exists. When the tables are turned, however, and inequality is absolutely apparent, even to a blind man on a galloping horse, they attempt to say that it is a different matter. It is not different. Equality will be obtained and achieved. If people do not like that, it is their tough luck.