Thursday, 23 September 2010

A Partial Partnership

The Northern Ireland Assembly's Research and Library Service has issued an interesting paper on the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure's arm's-length bodies.

The document shows that the Ulster-Scots Agency was spending 65.17%, or almost two thirds, of its budget on administration in 2007-08. By 2009-10, after the Department had intervened, that figure had fallen to 52.55% (throughout the same period, the equivalent figure for Foras na Gaeilge remained fairly constant at between 43% and 46%). Of course, were the Agency conducting its own academic research, concerns about the proportion of its spending not going on grants to external bodies might be considered irrelevant. But the Blether Region is unaware of any such research, and, as readers will know, many of the grants that it issued were not connected with Scots as a language.

Interestingly, the paper states that:

"The Republic of Ireland Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs funds 75% of the budget of Foras na Gaeilge, and DCAL the remaining 25%. DCAL funds 75% of the budget of the Ulster-Scots Agency, and DCEGA the remaining 25%."

This indeed appears very largely to be the case with the Ulster-Scots Agency. With Foras na Gaeilge, on the other hand, it is clear that there was considerable slippage beginning with the restoration of devolution in 2007, and DCAL now appears to be paying only 17.5%. Irish-language activists in the North may have felt that the 75/25 rule would protect the budget for the language, but that appears to have been only partially true. Part of the disparity is attributable to a large cash boost in the South's contribution from 2008-9, but not all. Indeed, DCAL's funding of Foras na Gaeilge has been falling at a time when both polities' contribution to Ulster Scots has been increasing.

It appears to be the case not only that the Department is cutting its discretionary budget for Irish, but that it is doing so even where bound by an international treaty — and not being held to account.

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