Language groups hit out at SF ‘sop’ claims

A whole host of Irish language groups have hit out at plans being organised to lobby the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to reverse a decision that would see a huge investment being made in the Irish language sector.

The protest is being organised by Will Chamberlain of Belfast Community Circus after news emerged that the DCAL was cutting its Arts draft budget for the next three years.

The proposals contained in the draft budget out for consultation indicates that funding for the arts will reduce from £14.5 million in the current financial year to £13 million in 2008/9.

Meanwhile the department’s ‘Cultural Policy’, the majority of which is focused on Irish and Ulster Scots matters, is due to be increased from £800,000 to £9.8 million over the same period.

Hitting out at this, Will Chamberlain said this revenue was simply a ‘sop’ to Sinn Féin.

“It would appear that ‘Cultural Policy’ is actually another way of describing support for linguistic diversity – that’s to say Irish Language and Ulster Scots,” the community worker said.

“So, why is this aspect of culture not just immune to cuts, but appears to increase the severity of cuts to the arts? Well, DCAL would argue that the answer lies in the Good Friday Agreement since it enshrines the principle of supporting Irish language and Ulster Scots and ensuring parity between the two. However, a study of the GFA reveals that there is no specific commitment to the sum of money given over to this development.

“Cynics might argue that such a large amount of money being ring fenced for language is simply a sop to Sinn Féin and the DUP to encourage them to reach an accommodation in the negotiations to reinstate the Assembly.

Whatever the reason, it demonstrates that DCAL has resources at its disposal and that not all aspects of expenditure are being treated equally.”

However according to leading Irish language figure Gearóid Ó Cairealláin the extra £9 million is part of an investment pencilled in for the Irish Television Production Fund, which is to receive £12 million over the next five years, working out at £9 million over the next three.

As chair of the Aisling Ghéar Theatre Company, chair of the Scannáin Aisling Ghéar film and television company, chair of Raidió Fáilte, the Irish language community radio station and chair of Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Gearóid said he was deeply opposed to any such protest against the Irish language community.

“I have spent more than twenty years working on frontline arts provision, arts provision in Irish for the Irish speaking community.

“I can assure you that the arts in the Irish language have been in turn neglected, derided, abused, under-funded, funded in a most niggardly fashion and accepted under sufferance for many, many years.

“The £800,000 currently available for arts in Irish is paltry beyond belief. I suspect the increase you are talking about refers to the forthcoming production fund for Irish language television and film, announced by the Secretary of State last April.

“This fund was brought forward belatedly in support of commitments made by the British government in the Good Friday Agreement and was intended to kick start Irish language television production in the North, which was already lagging behind the rest of the country by at least fifteen years. The fund itself was cut back by almost fifty per cent even before being brought on stream, and that means drastic cutbacks in proposed frontline arts provision because television in one of the few areas in which some arts practitioners at least can expect to eke out some kind of an existence.

“At present spending on the arts in Irish on TV in this state is virtually nil, and to have the first steps towards rectifying that situation cut back by almost fifty per cent before they even get started is a disgrace, and a sorry development that I imagine all of the arts community would rally against. No person or group working in the Irish language arts could possibly support a campaign which is based on such a false premise.

“Arts in the Irish language should not be made the scapegoat,” added Gearóid.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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