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Stormont to review future of Irish and Ulster-Scots voicemail service

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Ian Crozier, chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency, said he would like there to be discussions around what the speaking community need

Ian Crozier, chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency, said he would like there to be discussions around what the speaking community need

Ian Crozier, chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency, said he would like there to be discussions around what the speaking community need

Ulster-Scots and Irish language voicemail services at Stormont are under review - and have been used so infrequently in 16 years that the Department for Communities is no longer keeping records of calls.

The services were set up in 2004 by former direct rule minister Angela Smith on the back of the European Charter, which was designed to protect and promote regional and minority languages.

The department said it no longer keeps records of the number of calls, but that the service was used "infrequently".

The facility is in place for members of the public as a way of indicating that they wish to conduct their business in Irish or Ulster-Scots.

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

An Ulster-Scots or Irish speaker is then sourced and a response will then be issued. In 2013 this paper reported that not one call had been made to the Ulster-Scots line in almost a decade.

Just 46 calls had been made during the same period of 2004 to 2012 to the Irish line.

The department said in a statement it is "considering whether another channel would be more appropriate".

The statement continued: "With the new commissioners to be appointed, it is expected that they will take forward work to engage further with both languages."

As part of the New Decade, New Approach Stormont deal, there will be new commissioners appointed to develop the use of Irish and Ulster-Scots.

The department said a number of stakeholders engage "directly" in Irish with the languages team and there is the ability to seek translations in Ulster-Scots where necessary.

Ian Crozier, chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency, said he would like there to be discussions around what the speaking community need.

"Ulster-Scots speakers don't communicate with government in Ulster-Scots," he said.

"The Ulster-Scots community didn't ask for that service in the first place. We are getting hit for people not using a service they were never asked to provide." He added: "If departments are going to look at different ways of promoting and facilitating Ulster-Scots that's great, but what they need is to be talking to people.

"It needs to be done in a way that builds up confidence within the Ulster-Scots community."

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, advocacy manager at Conradh na Gaeilge, said the most important thing is for an awareness campaign for Irish language speakers to know what services are available.

He said: "One of the main issues we have encountered is actual knowledge about these services."

He added: "The most pertinent point in this is the fact that what these services tend to offer is substandard.

"If I were to phone up in English, I'd speak with someone straight away.

"But if you phone up in Irish, you are at an immediate disadvantage because you have to leave a voicemail and hope at some stage down the line someone gets back to you."

He said the new language commissioners need to look at "what would make the most difference".

Search under way for post of translator

Stormont has already begun hiring for Irish language posts, following the new deal at Stormont.

A job advert has appeared for an Irish language translator.

It states: "Our client, a leading public sector organisation based in the Stormont area of Belfast has an urgent requirement for an experienced Translator (Irish Language) to join their existing team. This is temporary ongoing starting ASAP."

The hourly rate is listed as £18.21. The hours of work are stated as being determined by the sitting pattern of the Assembly.

Among the duties listed is one to provide simultaneous interpreting service to the Speaker and Clerks at Table from Irish to English during sittings of the Assembly; to provide translation/interpreting services from Irish to English and vice versa in respect of other written and oral material; and to provide accurate and grammatically correct written reports in Irish.

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