I am writing to express deep disappointment at the unfair treatment of Ulster-Scots by the Belfast Telegraph on Monday, August 19.
Two issues were examined in the article entitled "Government complaints office (Ulster Scots Branch)": the level of usage of minority language answering services; and the cost associated with the translation of public sector documents.
In relation to the answering services provided for Ulster-Scots and Irish, it was indicated that in a 10-year period, the Ulster-Scots service had not been used, while the Irish service had been used on 49 occasions.
The Ulster-Scots answering service that you refer to was established by central government in the context of the recognition of Ulster-Scots and Irish under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
It was not put in place at the request of the Ulster-Scots-speaking community, so people should not draw any negative conclusion about Ulster-Scots because it has not been used. It is my understanding that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure made clear that the provision of this service resulted in no additional cost to the taxpayer.
Ulster-Scots is often referred to as the Hamely Tongue. That is because it is most frequently used by speakers in family or social settings. More than a century of discrimination and marginalisation, particularly through the education system, means that users of Ulster-Scots have been conditioned not to use the tongue in business or official communication because they have been taught that is not "proper English".
When it comes to translation services, several of the articles in the two-page spread on pages four and five make reference to huge sums of money being spent on Irish and Ulster-Scots translations. However, this is hugely misleading. The figures in the article identify a total spend on Ulster-Scots translations of £2,470 as compared with a total spend on Irish translations in excess of £1m.
Again, it is worth noting that the Ulster-Scots-speaking community is not demanding the translation of public documents. The Ulster-Scots Language Forum, which includes representatives of the Ulster-Scots Agency; the Ulster -Scots Language Society; the Ullans Speakers Association and the Ulster-Scots Community Network, as well as the University of Ulster, the Ministerial Advisory Group on the Ulster-Scots Academy and the BBC, has agreed a language development pathway for Ulster-Scots which prioritises identifying and supporting the language in the places where it is currently spoken, ie in the home and the community.
In line with that pathway, the translation of public documents is not currently a priority. This is consistent with international practice and with the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages. Any public sector organisation currently sourcing translations into Ulster-Scots is doing something which is not required by the charter and not supported by the Ulster-Scots sector. Since the article identifies that: a) Ulster-Scots speakers didn't use a phone line that they never asked for in the first place; b) the phone line didn't cost anything; and c) the tiny sum of £2,470 was spent on Ulster-Scots translations while £1,096,330 was spent on Irish translations, folk might be forgiven for wondering why Ulster-Scots received the level of prominence in the article that it did.
It is particularly concerning that artwork was created and/or sourced with the apparent purpose of mocking Ulster-Scots.
Most people will know the old saying that a picture tells a thousand words. It follows that the inclusion of two significant photographs which have the effect of criticising Ulster-Scots will have had a negative value out of all proportion to the involvement of Ulster-Scots in the actual story.
The Belfast Telegraph article posed legitimate questions about the use of public resources. Regretfully however your treatment of the answers to those questions was such that no reasonable person could have considered it to be fair.