Tuesday, 6 May 2014
Two written answers to Assembly Questions from the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure cast light on the financial realities facing the Irish-language magazine An tUltach and the Ulster-Scots Agency.
Funding to the latter has fallen year on year, from £2,304,267 in 2009 to £1,893,749 four years later. While the agency has recently downsized its accommodation, a real issue that it must face is whether its modest and problematic contribution to Scots justifies its staff complement (wags might say "its existence").
Meanwhile, from a 2009 level of £21,026, the annual subvention to An tUltach has similarly fallen each year, so that in 2013 it stood at a mere £16,554. When funding ceases on 1 July 2014, the magazine may well be forced to close.
Given the comparatively tiny sum involved, one really must question the logic behind the move. An tUltach was set up in order to provide a forum for speakers of Ulster Irish, who remain ill-served by Southern Irish-language media, despite the Donegal Gaeltacht, in contemporary terms, being the largest by territory and second-largest by population (there are considerably more native speakers of the Ulster dialect than of that of Munster). That foundational argument therefore still holds.
Moreover, at 90 years old, it is a relatively venerable publication, being able to look back on an impressive literary history that is, for some, no doubt interwoven with the cultural case for the language itself.
More to the point, An tUltach is also actually worth picking up and reading, something that could not always be said of Conradh na Gaeilge's Southern magazine Feasta (a comparative youth founded in 1948), which far too often reproduces verbatim transcripts of speeches at book launches and barely edited official press releases.
It seems to the Blether Region that An tUltach's measly stipend could easily be scraped up elsewhere, perhaps by taking a harder look at the expenses claims of Foras na Gaeilge board members or by delaying (even slightly) the replacement of staff members who have left.
It would certainly be an occasion of considerable shame for the magazine to disappear at a time when there is a Sinn Féin Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North. Thus far, Carál Ní Chuilín's actions with regard to the future of the language have been dubious and disruptive, akin to some mercurial dictator bulldozing an ancient city in order to build a gleaming new capital — but with no guarantee that it will in any way equal the old.
Allowing something as precious as An tUltach to die on her watch really would prove that she has her head in the clouds.