Sunday, 28 November 2010

Darling Buds?

Last Monday saw another round of Assembly Questions to the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Parliament Buildings. There were no surprise changes to the expected reiteration of positions that we have become used to. The Blether Region's chief reaction echoes Declan O'Loan's comment that the non-appearance of a languages strategy is now no longer acceptable — or, to use different words, beyond a joke.

Nelson McCausland never fails to impress with his astonishingly divergent interpretation of what constitutes fair play, something summed up in comments such as the following:

"The development of a single strategy for both languages is designed to highlight both our shared heritage and the desire to strive towards parity between the languages."

So the Minister is brilliant at talking the talk but not at walking the walk. What next? Well, one point to consider is what happens after May. We have to remember that it is fundamentally not in the DUP's interest to spend money on an Ulster-Scots Academy, since it will play extremely badly with its culturally sceptical voters, perhaps even worse than with Nationalists, many of whom have internalised a minority-languages discourse and can see the point in extending support to the dialect, albeit only as such. So the DUP needs out, and Sinn Féin, which has been taking a good deal of stick from Irish-language activists, needs in.

One such activist told the Blether Region yesterday that, back in 1998, the UUP had chosen DCAL in order to prevent Sinn Féin having both Education and Culture. If one were to reverse that scenario and Sinn Féin took Culture this time round, one might expect the DUP to opt for Education, especially since many of the more middle-class types who have given it their vote since the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement are angry at Caitríona Ruane's policy on grammar schools.

The trouble with that is that the party could conceivably do even more damage to Irish than it has done at DCAL. After all, many aspects of language promotion are served through spill-over from the South or a direct line from Westminster, but not funding for Irish-medium education. If the DUP were in charge of Education, at a minimum one might expect it not to fund new Gaelscoileanna. More worrying would be what might happen if the funding for existing Gaelscoileanna were withdrawn. As the most insularly Protestant manifestation of Unionism that manages to get elected in any substantial fashion, the DUP is not aware, or chooses not to believe, that people on the other side have any genuine interest in Irish. And withdrawal of funding would put a particularly emotive form of pressure on Nationalist participation in the Executive.

The above seems more likely than what for Irish would be the dream scenario of Sinn Féin becoming the largest party in the Assembly and then using that status to negotiate the passage of a language Act as the price for changing the rules to let the DUP retain the post of First Minister.

As for Ulster Scots, well, a change in personnel at DCAL would no doubt spare the dialect the indignity of an Ulster-Scots Academy, but whether it would actually result in any great revival in its fortunes is moot.

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