Friday, 21 January 2011

"Twenty people use the Irish language"

Listeners to this morning's Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster (at around 9.30 a.m.) heard some astonishing claims from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland. The last caller to the show, UUP Councillor David Browne, asked Mr. McCausland about spending on Irish and Ulster Scots, querying the cost of the telephone helplines made available for their speakers. The shocking answer was as follows:

"That is a requirement that was imposed on Northern Ireland and on other devolved Assemblies, Wales and Scotland, by the United Kingdom Government when they signed up to the European Charter for [Regional or] Minority Languages. That was a commitment — a requirement that we have to fulfil and we have to report on. There are certain things we have to do. The cost of that is around a few thousand pounds a year, and in terms of the sort of thing we are talking about here, £50 million, it really is a minuscule amount. What I have to say: I would concur with his comment that these things are — it is ridiculous that we are required to do these things, because 20 people use the Irish language. We are told that there is a huge, burgeoning community, and I think about 20 people use it half a dozen [times] a year. That has been the situation for a number of years."

Is there really no limit to what the Minister may justify as his sincerely held belief — even belief backed up by evidence?

According to the 2001 census, 167,487 people in Northern Ireland had some knowledge of Irish, including 75,125 in the highest skills category, "Speaks, reads, writes and understands".

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