Friday, 18 November 2011

Parallel Lives?

The Grecian halls of Stormont were abuzz with talk of the new Programme for Government yesterday. Amid the myriad policies discussed — and the considerable relief evident that a programme of any kind has at last been negotiated — the Blether Region was struck by a misinterpretation of the document on the part of Peter Robinson.

The First Minister stated:

"Consistent with the Hillsborough agreement, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure will bring forward a strategy for the Irish language and Ulster Scots. We look forward to seeing those proposals. I hope that both of those languages can be developed in a way that is apart from political rancour."

Slugger O'Toole's Mick Fealty commented positively on that, apparently taking Mr. Robinson's synopsis at face value. However, a single strategy for Irish and Ulster Scots was in fact the policy of the previous DUP Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland — one that was roundly criticised in the Committee of Experts' report on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The current policy outlined in the draft Programme for Government is for two distinct strategies, one for Irish and one for "Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture". The Hillsborough agreement cited by Mr. Robinson makes no explicit reference to matters linguistic, although it does mention outstanding issues from the St. Andrews agreement (which, as we all know, mentions not an Irish-language strategy but an Act).

The two-strategy approach means that progress on Irish will no longer be held back by the hirplin prick-ma-denty of Ulster Scots, which is good news. However, the inclusion of "heritage and culture" may unfortunately mean that money will continue to be siphoned off from genuine Scots-language initiatives and spent on other projects; and on past form many of those will have a negative effect on the local dialect's ability to garner the Catholic and liberal Unionist support necessary to ensure its survival.

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