Tuesday, 14 June 2011

No Ulster-Scots Academy

Representatives from DCAL and the Ministerial Advisory Group for the Ulster-Scots Academy were at Stormont last Thursday to give evidence to the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Surprisingly, DCAL Director of Culture Arthur Scott was unable to provide the committee with a figure for spending on the academy project to date (surely a rather obvious and easily anticipated question), and was instead reduced to promising a written response. We do know, however, that an annual £1 million has been allocated during the four-year Ministerial Advisory Group project.

The big news to come out of the evidence session (aka the elephant in the room) was that there is unlikely to be an Ulster-Scots Academy during this Stormont mandate, with the emphasis instead likely to be on smaller, free-standing research projects considered on merit. The key exchange was as follows:

Dominic Bradley: It has been quite a long time in the making, the academy, and I notice that, even at this stage, there is no certainty that there will be an academy. Your briefing paper says that a decision on setting up a formal academy will be considered at a later stage. How long more will we have to wait until the actual academy is established?

Arthur Scott: In the assessment of the business case by the project steering group there was an issue around affordability, and in the particular financial circumstances which are likely to prevail for this CSR period of four years — you know, unless there is a significant change over the four-year period — it may not be considered, but it is something that can be considered in future if there is a change. The other, of course, development may well be that the work that the Ministerial Advisory Group does in terms of bringing leadership to the sector and co-ordinating the efforts of the sector [means that] the nature of what people were thinking about in the past about an academy, what they were thinking about in the business case, could change over time, and there may be other ways, other options for doing it which may be more affordable.

Is the Blether Region alone in suspecting that the Ministerial Advisory Group, which counts several distinguished academics among its members, and which, as its chairman, the equally distinguished Dr. Bill Smith, reports, "aspire[s] to be the proto-board for an academy", is taking remedial action to counter the omissions of the Ulster-Scots Agency? If its task is to clear up others' mess, would that mess not be better tackled at source? And if the Schnapsidee of standardising Ulster Scots separately from Scots in Scotland has been put to rest, why persist with the name "academy"?

Only time will tell.

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