Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill

“Activists promoting the little-used Ulster Scots language, spoken by less than 1 percent of Northern Irish residents on the Protestant side of the divide, are due to gain their own rights commissioner and new support under the bill”. The article concedes the 2011 census found that only 3.7 percent of Northern Ireland residents identified themselves as fluent in Irish.

Ulster Scots Language Society’s chairperson, Anne Smyth, wrote in response:

As usual, there are a number of misconceptions and misquotes in the report. The Ulster-Scots Language Society has been in existence since 1992, long before unionist politicians sought to make political capital out of it, and has been absolutely central to the revival of interest in the Ulster-Scots language. So I’d take issue with the ‘fringe movement’ description. Many people outside of our organisation have spoken to me about the interview, all agreeing with what I said. Furthermore, the headline ‘pest’ comment is taken totally out of context. In my previous comments in the interview, I pointed out that because Irish has had the advantage over a considerable time of having its own Irish-medium schools, it has a ready-made pool of activists ready to take to the streets in support of additional special treatment for the language. That educational advantage also provides a cohort of young people qualified to compete for the Irish Language Commissioner post, while Ulster-Scots does not. Furthermore, the Irish Language Commissioner is accorded much more comprehensive powers to pull public bodies into line in accordance with ‘best practice’ ideas that he or she presumably has the right to codify in the first place. It was the ‘Commissioner’ I described as having the powers to make a ‘pest’ of him or herself, not the ‘activists’. So whoever was doing the reporting cannot have been listening. And finally, in the NDNA scenario, the ‘Ulster-Scots Commissioner’ is not solely concerned with the language, or even with Ulster-Scots, but also with an inchoate ‘culture’ that is nowhere defined and includes the strange ‘Ulster British’ concept, which is additional to and distinct from preceding ‘provision’ and again is nowhere defined. It is the Ulster-Scots language in regard to which the UK government signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2000 – but both the MLAs who devised the NDNA and the civil servants who are theoretically supposed to administer it persist in treating the language as a strange offshoot of this undefined ‘culture’. Also, perhaps before there are comments about ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ and ‘paranoia’, it would suit those responding better to take an informed look at the way the North/South Language Body and its supporters in Stormont have actually engaged with (or not) the Ulster-Scots language in the past. I am happy to provide details if anyone turns out to be interested. Finally, I don’t know where the information on which the ‘1%’ comment is based came from. No proper survey of the number of Ulster-Scots speakers has been done since Professor R J Gregg’s survey in the 1960s. Furthermore, Ulster-Scots speakers are not confined to the Protestant community. My organisation is by constitution totally apolitical. Pity we cannot say the same for most of the organisations promoting Irish. Basically, if you had been trying to get as much wrong information into an article as possible you couldn’t have done a better job.

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