An MLA has come under fire for hitting out at Ulster-Scots — despite representing the area considered the heartland of the culture.
North Antrim SDLP MLA Declan O'Loan branded the idea of Ulster-Scots as a language “comical” — which could provoke a backlash from his constituents.
He made the remark while questioning a move by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) to fund an Ulster-Scots Academy. Plans for an academy, in the pipeline since 2003, are uncertain due to budget cuts.
Mr O'Loan, who is deputy chair of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, said: “This bid for funding for an Ulster-Scots Agency is surely inappropriate. The project has been delayed because it lacks definition and even those involved in Ulster-Scots issues disagree fundamentally about it. The whole concept of a so-called Ulster-Scots language has been inflated to an extent that has become comical. Public documents are being translated into an official verbiage which is non-existent in the real world.
“There is a genuine Ulster-Scots culture, history and local dialect, but the study of it is being damaged by falsehoods.
“At the same time the department has presented figures showing its budget cut from £109m to £92m by 2014/15. Arts and sports organisations will take the bigger share of that £17m reduction. That will have a massive effect on jobs and output in those sectors. What then can be the case for asking for £2m per year for an Ulster-Scots Academy?
“When I asked officials about this at the committee, I was told clearly that it was the desire of the minister. It appears that this project is entirely politically driven and is not based on a sound case.”
But campaigner Lord Laird said he was “disappointed” about “unworthy comments” made about Ulster-Scots by nationalists.
“One of the gentlemen concerned is Ballymena’s own Declan O’Loan. On many issues I agree with MLA O’Loan, which makes me all the sadder when he lets himself down by attacking a culture which is not his. Declan has underlined once again the narrow out of date think of nationalism.”
DCAL hired consultants Deloitte MCS Limited to carry out an appraisal of, and develop a business case to support, the proposal to establish the academy.
The 2005 budget announced a re-profiled budget of £12m over five years for the academy.