Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Pretend language a waste of time and public money

The Scots have been hating the English for almost as long as the Irish have hated the English, although less violently in recent times.

Those living north of Hadrian’s Wall have always been proudly independent and fiercely determined to show that they were different from their political rulers in England.

So it was something of a surprise to find that their sense of identity does not extend to their language. Research conducted for the SNP found that 64% of Scottish people regard Scots as merely as way of speaking (presumably the other 36% came from Glasgow, were interviewed after chucking out time at the local hostelries, and no-one could understand their response).

Now, if the Scottish people don’t believe the way they talk is a distinct language, why do some in Northern Ireland claim that it is — and, far worse spend, or should that be waste, millions trying to create a language no-one else believes in, including the present day inhabitants of the land the Ulster-Scots came from?

It is not that people in Scotland don’t use Scots words or phrases — some 85% claim to speak Scots, with 43% claiming to speak it a lot. They just take the view that is their way of speaking, their dialect, their accent or whatever, not a language to rival English.

Yet in Northern Ireland we continue to pretend that Ulster-Scots is a language not only worth preserving, but also promoting. The Ulster-Scots Agency — or as they laughably call it Tha Boord O Ulster-Scotch — has been established to promote Ulster-Scots culture and language. It even produces a newsletter on the issue — written in plain English, of course.

The campaign to have Ulster-Scots recognised as a language came about when Irish was given official status under the Good Friday Agreement. If the Catholics had a language, then the Protestants had to have one too, even if it was imaginary.

Since then huge amounts of money have been wasted on both languages. Last year it was revealed that the Executive spent almost £70,000 translating documents into Irish and Ulster-Scots. The bulk of the money, nearly £50,000, was spent by the Department of Education on correspondence with Irish medium schools.

This is all nonsense. While the Irish medium schools rightly can claim for funding as educational establishment, there is no need to pander to them by sending every missive in Irish, and probably English as well. There is no-one in authority in those schools who cannot read or speak English.

Similarly there is no Ulster-Scots speaker who cannot read English. There is no need for duplication of translations at the Executive to placate either Irish or Ulster-Scots fanatics.

Last week Finance Minister Sammy Wilson brought a sense of reality to the Executive when he announced budget cuts of £367m, with a whopping £113.5m being snatched from the Department of Health’s coffers.

And this is only the start of the hard times. No political party is even pretending otherwise. We all face higher taxes, less public spending and reduced services in the coming years as the UK’s national debt continues to threaten to sink us.

We in Northern Ireland will not be immune from the pain. So it is time we started thinking prudently. May I suggest that reducing funding for a minority language, Irish, and a language that doesn’t exist, Ulster-Scots, as a sensible starting point.

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