Recent Written Answers to Assembly Questions tabled for the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure have revealed some interesting snippets of information about the Ulster-Scots Agency.
According to an answer to the DUP's David Hilditch (AQO 6392/11-15), the agency, which has been the focus of more than one financial and accounting scandal during its decade-and-a-half of existence, has still not had its budget for the year 2013 approved, despite the fact that the money has presumably already been spent.
The other question (AQO 6397/11-15), about "extra resource and finance", was asked by his party colleague William Humphrey, a former Director of the Ulster Scots Community Network, former Board Member of Ulster Scots Agency and former member of the Ulster Scots Academy Implementation Group.
In response, the Minister confirmed that "The Agency has been asked to provide a business case to enable Sponsor Departments to consider a modest increase in its staffing complement.".
Were that to happen, it would, of course, be in keeping with the top-down nature of the Ulster-Scots phenomenon, which at a community level has failed to take root — unless, of course, it's the kind of root that politicians trip over. The truth is that, leaving flute bands to one side, the agency has always found it easiest, given the sum of its talents and empathies, to spend money on itself. More worryingly, the Minister also stated that "The MAGUS and the Agency are working with the Sector to develop a collaborative approach to scoping a Líofa type initiative of Ulster-Scots that will include History, Heritage, Culture and Language.".
In view of the fact that the agency has a) hitherto failed adequately to promote any authentic version of the traditional dialect and b) instead relied on peddling the type of absurd ethnic packages that so limit cultural expression in Northern Ireland, that does not augur well. In that context, the Minister confirmed that she had "supported a bid for £20K as part of the June monitoring to fund this scoping and development work".
The initial stages of Líofa did not involve spending of that magnitude, but then Líofa had a clear and simple goal, the acquisition of fluency in Irish, whereas those of the agency are considerably broader and vaguer, as well as being highly unlikely to have language at their core, since the agency has failed to develop the dialect in the ways required to render it teachable outside universities.