Response to EQUIA of draft Ulster-Scots Language Policy

Submission by Mid Ulster Victims’ Empowerment management committee,  2c Park Avenue, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone BT80 8AH to EQIA  of Draft Ulster-Scots Language Policy for Mid Ulster District Council

Mid Ulster Victims’ Empowerment was set up in 2012 by a dedicated group of volunteers in the Mid-Ulster area.  It is a registered charity. This submission represents the thoughts and concerns of our 500+  members and their extended families.

MUVE main aim is to offer help and support to innocent victims affected by the Troubles within Mid-Ulster. MUVE provides services, advice, and support to individuals, families and groups in order to promote well-being and prevent isolation. 

We also react to our members’ concerns; this Ulster-Scots Language Policy impacts on us because our members are of the British community, many also of Ulster-Scots ancestry; we have many ex-service men and women in our membership, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, both able-bodied and disabled.  All members feel strongly the lack of knowledge of our cultural needs shown by this policy.

We have looked at the Equal Impact Assessment preliminary conclusions and recommendations and the Section 75 duties.

We understand that this consultation is only to determine the “…extent of the likely differential impact in terms of equality of opportunity upon groups within the nine equality categories set out in Section 75 of the NI Act 1998.”

We have analysed our members’ concerns and in this submission concentrated on those which concern us directly – (equality of opportunity between persons of different religious belief and political opinion.)

The following are our concerns:

  • We note that the Irish Language policy went ahead regardless, as we knew it would.  This concerned us at the time and has since, because we are bombarded by costly signage to fulfil a political agenda; consequently
  • This consultation seems to us to exist simply to give the appearance of balance, so it does not address the real needs of the culture, but re-defines its needs to suit the pre-set Irish language agenda
  • We believe, in these times of economic crisis, that money should not be poured into a “quick fix” of Ulster-Scots matters, based on the lazy assumption that what suits the Irish language will suit the Ulster-Scots (though in less quantity where money is concerned).  The source of the money is also a concern – what is its source, how much is in the pot, is it shared with the Irish culture and, if so, in what proportion?

Addressing our main concerns re. Ulster-Scots:

Equality of Opportunity between persons of different religious belief and persons of different political opinions:

  1. MUVE recognises the good intentions of Mid-Ulster Council in addressing the cultural needs of the Ulster-Scots community: we understand the wording of the St Andrew’s Agreement and European Charter.  The phrases which stand out in these are:
    “where appropriate…”, ” where the people so desire it …” and “according to the situation of each language…”.  The measures listed for implementation do not appear to be “according to the situation of each language…” They appear to be considering Ulster-Scots as a simple mirror image of Irish, which clearly indicates either a lack of knowledge or a lack of interest in Ulster-ScotsIf the council is going to use Ulster-Scots as part of a cultural balancing act, it should do it properly and make a point of understanding the subject matter.  We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity because they are being gauged on the Irish language needs and not on their own merits; individual attention should be given to Ulster-Scots as its promotion should not be seen as a necessary evil to make the Irish agenda look inclusive.
  2. We read with interest the data and research used to quantify and analyse irrelevant information in the council area.  Whilst recognising the difference in age groups represented by the 8.1% quoted in the census and the 15% in the Continuous Household Survey, we cast our minds back to the Irish consultation and the magical 17.41% which designated Irish speakers as having “needs” and we realise how close we are to that miraculous figure; the figure which opens doors (well-labelled in the language, of course) to so many opportunities.  We can only assume that we are in the right zone to be listened to, but would like clarification of the exact figure we need to reach before we can be seen as seriously cultured.
    With respect to the figures and questions in the general stats section, we doubted the low figure of 13% who engaged in Ulster-Scots activities. On visiting the website, we saw that the questions/lists specified “with an Ulster-Scots cultural theme”.  Many of our people engage in music, for example, but unless it was bagpipes playing Scottish songs, would consider it to be their culture, but without a specific “Ulster-Scots” label, because we live the culture and as such do not see it as necessarily distinctive or segmentable.   In a way it is to our cultural detriment that, when questioned on Ulster-Scots indicators, we often obligingly search around for something tartan or Presbyterian without realising we personify Ulster-Scots in daily life.  We feel that, again, our culture is being dissected and reassembled to fit into a mould which makes it easier for the council to deal with.  We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
  3. We therefore also question whether the magical 17.41% indicating a triggering of Irish language “needs” (and presumably therefore of any other language needs) also represents a baseline for other cultural requirements?  Or is it that language is more important than any other aspect of a culture?  Are we to assume that the linguistic aspects of any and all cultures are to be elevated to top of the list?  Will this apply to Ulster-Scots issues, although, as we have already stated, our cultural needs are different?  Will we have to push for costly road signs and council translations, not because we want them, but because it is the only recognition we can get?  Because ‘shared spaces’ have to be filled out with so many words they are no longer spaces?  Again, we feel we are being manipulated to suit the Irish agenda.  We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
  4. Where implementation of the policy is concerned, we believe strongly that we should NOT be forced down the same line as the Irish contingent with the drive for street signs re-done, forms translated, doors labelled and receptionists struggling with yet another language. We do NOT want our language and culture used as a political weapon and we do NOT believe our local politicians want that either. Ulster-Scots has its own needs and a basic need is to be able to have our people gain confidence in their culture, learning that the words they use every day are Ulster-Scots, learning that a language does not have to be incomprehensible or taught in jail to be a valid language. We do not believe that being pushed down the parallel path by the council will help us.  This consultation seems to us to exist simply to give the appearance of balance, so it does not address the real needs of the Ulster-Scots culture, but re-defines its essence to suit the Irish language agenda and bolster it in its position as a language worthy of its place above English in council corporate images.  We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
  5. We do NOT want money spent on Ulster-Scots language signs used everywhere from town streets to council toilets just for the sake of the council pretending it is inclusive.  We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity

Summary of MUVE submission

Let us reiterate, we DO fully understand and support the ideals of cultural diversity; we DO fully understand and support the language rights of minorities; we DO believe that the Fishman Model can be used as part of an over-all education strategy, because Ulster-Scots is a verbal medium.  We most definitely do NOT want Ulster-Scots to become a weapon of mass exclusion, as has the Irish language, which was slammed in our faces because European legislation can be quoted; it apparently does not matter that it is not fully or equally applied; it apparently does not matter that it is not, in fact, a statutory duty for councils. Now it seems the council is pretending to “balance” the cultural books through an Ulster-Scots consultation. BUT we need resources for our language “and attendant culture. The council, let us repeat, is not recognising the cultural needs of Ulster-Scots, it is just lazily nodding in our direction.

What does MUVE believe the council SHOULD DO to support, enhance and develop Ulster-Scots language and culture and – importantly – to minimise the belief that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity?  We suggest you:

  1. FORGET struggling to make support to the Ulster-Scots language mirror exactly the Irish; INSTEAD balance the money spent in a way which is culture-appropriate to Ulster-Scots and utilise those with knowledge to pinpoint real cultural needs specific to the area
  2. FORGET the costly nonsense of extra words on already over-stressed road signs, paid for from an over-stressed budget; INSTEAD put the equivalent money into a comprehensive education programme on Ulster-Scots local heritage and culture
  3. FORGET putting money into pointless translations of documents; INSTEAD put money into cultural events funding, for example, poetry, readings of local writers
  4. FORGET funding council reception staff to convers in Ulster-Scots; INSTEAD fund Ulster-Scots language and cultural classes for adults and children at various venues

What does MUVE believe the council WILL DO to support, enhance and develop Ulster-Scots language and culture?

Naethin (nothing).

We do not believe that an Ulster-Scots policy will be implemented in any meaningful way, if at all.  The “Ach sure it’ll do them rightly” attitude to our culture is offensive but apparent in the old councils and now blossoming in the new.  The idea that a few pounds scattered around will make us feel important and valued is not one the average Ulster-Scot will swallow.

And one final thought … what happens when we hit the magical 17.41% which apparently signifies a need and triggers a wholesale rush of council attention?  What will the council do then?

Read the Draft Ulster-Scots Language Policy