Keano's Diary: Language Policy and the Ulster-Scots Agency

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The Lord Laird of Artigarvan, Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency, this week gives his view on the language debate in the Crack and argues that government support for the development of the language has been long overdue.

THE Ulster-Scots Language has only been given the international and political recognition it deserves within the past decade. But much politically motivated prejudice against its future development still has to be fully overcome.

The prejudice may be because some believe that Ulster-Scots has only managed to get where it is today for political reasons. Others even believe that the government wanted to give the unionists something to balance concessions to Irish and invented Ulster Scots.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The major factors underpinning the position of Ulster-Scots today are:

1. Strong community demand and support - even before the US Agency was unleashed, much interest had been shown including the creation of the Ulster Scots Heritage Council, the Language Society and an Academy.

2. Strong academic support

3. Human rights recognition of language rights

4. The Equality Obligation under current legislation gives support to the position of Ulster-Scots in public life.

5. Ulster-Scots position was paralleled by other minority language communities in Europe.

This means that Ulster-Scots could not be ignored or suppressed. Government had only one option and that was to accommodate it.

However, the Ulster Scots movement as a whole recognize that a major exercise must be carried out to balance the negative agenda of some people.

The facts are:

The inclusion of Ulster-Scots in the Belfast Agreement has transformed the dynamic Ulster-Scots language movement from being a possible part of the problem to certainly being part of the solution. Remember that the Nazis and Romans and many other colonial races, believed that before you could dominate a people, their culture and language had to be smashed.

It is important to point out that the majority of Ulster Scots live in Northern Ireland and politically would be Unionists. While the Agency pays no attention to religion or politics, the reality is that the

issue of Ulster Scots development has a political side.

UK Government signed the European Charter on Regional Minority Languages. This recognized for the first time the equal status of the Irish and Ulster- Scots Languages.

Equal Status in theory perhaps, but not equal needs or equal levels of development. Ulster-Scots needs a massive "catch-up" programme of investment to ensure the equality agenda of the Belfast Agreement is met and to ensure that the European Charter requirements for Ulster-Scots are met on an equivalent basis to other European regional languages, including Irish.

In the Republic of Ireland, Ulster-Scots is not as yet recognized as a European regional language because the Irish Government has not yet signed the European Charter. Irish is, of course, also a national language in the Republic. In order for the logic, the sentiment and the legal implications of the Belfast Agreement to work, Ulster-Scots must also be afforded status as the third national language in the Republic, or an alternative would be that Irish must be relaxed in status from its constitutionally privileged position to that of a European Regional minority language.

The remit of The North/South Language Body and the Ulster-Scots Agency is for the whole island. Discrepancies in status between Ulster-Scots and Irish must be harmonized, north and south. Let everyone be clear again and if necessary I will repeat it again and again, our objective is not to reduce the status of Irish, so the logic must be a massive catch-up programme for Ulster-Scots on both sides of the border.

One can see that there is a long road to be travelled. …