Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

The Stormont department which has had NO callers to Ulster Scots line in eight years

Pressure mounts on Stormont to pull plug on unwanted Ulster Scots voicemail service

Pressure mounts on Stormont to pull plug on unwanted Ulster Scots voicemail service
Pressure mounts on Stormont to pull plug on unwanted Ulster Scots voicemail service

Not a single person has used an Ulster Scots voicemail service set up by Stormont nearly a decade ago, we can reveal.

A similar service for Irish speakers has also barely been used with just a few dozen calls over the same period.

The facility, which has remained silent for eight years, now faces a chorus of calls for it to be scrapped – including from a leading Ulster Scots promoter.

The prominent Ulster Scots champion questioned the viability of a government service for which there is no demand.

The voicemail service allows people to leave their requests with government departments in Ulster Scots if no-one proficient in the language is available when they call.

An Ulster Scots speaker is then sourced and a response in Ulster Scots will be then be issued via written correspondence or over the phone.

The service, which is connected to all Stormont departments, has yet to be used.

Over the eight years between 2004 and 2012, not a single call has come through to the Ulster Scots voicemail, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) has confirmed.

Its Irish counterpart received just 46 calls during the same period.

DCAL claimed there was no cost for setting up the service or running it.

A departmental spokeswoman insisted the department will retain the facility – despite mounting pressure from politicians and even those within Ulster Scots circles to abandon it.

An Ulster Scots champion, well known for his involvement in Ulster Scots culture and music who did not want to be named, called for common sense to prevail.

He said: "If it has not been used in eight years, it's a service that nobody has wanted to date.

"And I'm sure if there's a change in the future it would not be too hard to get it back up and running again.

"If it's not serving a purpose, why have it there?

"To have absolutely no calls for eight years, there's obviously no demand whatsoever.

"I do not think it will damage the (Ulster Scots) brand by getting rid of it," the figure from Bready District Ulster Scots Development Association, added.

"The language is spoken in this area, in Donemana and Raphoe in east Donegal. There's also the Monreagh Ulster Scots Centre in Donegal.

"I suppose if it's not costing anything we could keep it running but what's the point?"

The voicemail service was set up in 2004 by direct rule DCAL Minister Angela Smith on the back of the European Charter which was designed to protect and promote regional and minority languages.

The European Charter came into force in the UK in July 2001.

However, pressure is intensifying on the beleaguered Stormont service given its apparent redundancy.

East Londonderry SDLP MLA John Dallat added: "I do not have any problems with people maintaining or preserving what they believe to be part of their culture, but it's time to be a bit realistic about a service that no one uses.

"Realistically, Ulster Scots is not a language.

"Ulster Scots is simply being used as a control to curtail the development of the Irish language, which is wrong."

FACTFILE

The Scots language or dialect, depending on your outlook, was brought to Ulster in the early 17th century, during the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlements and the Ulster Plantation. It has been claimed the Ulster-Scots language and heritage drive started out of a sense of rivalry among some Protestants and unionists, keen to counter-balance the Irish language movement. Irish language activist Aodan Mac Poilin said some current Ulster Scots writing systems are trying to be as different to English, and occasionally Scots, as possible, to reinforce the claim to be a separate language.

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