L’Assembliée d’l’Irlande du Nord d’batit:
Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 29 November 2011
British-Irish Council: Indigenous, Minority and Lesser-used Languages
Ms Ní Chuilín (Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure): Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Thank you, Mr Speaker. With your permission, in compliance with section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I wish to make the following report on the second British-Irish Council (BIC) ministerial meeting on indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages.(…)
I attended the meeting in Gweedore, County Donegal, on 11 November 2011. I represented the Executive as Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, along with Jonathan Bell MLA, junior Minister in the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. The Irish Government were represented by Dinny McGinley TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs; the Scottish Government were represented by Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning and Skills; Guernsey was represented by Deputy Michael O’Hara, Minister of the Department of Culture and Leisure; Jersey by Mario Lundy, the director of education; and the Isle of Man by Stuart Dobson, the chief executive officer of the Department of Education and Children.
The British Government are represented on the British-Irish Council indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages group by Rt Hon Hugo Swire MP, Minister of State for Northern Ireland. The Welsh Assembly Government, represented by the Welsh Language Board, takes the lead in BIC on indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages issues.
I will now present a summary of the issues that were discussed at the meeting on 11 November. Promoting the use of indigenous and minority languages in communities was recognised as a vital part of the promotion of minority languages and the safeguarding of their future. Ministers endorsed the findings of the conference held in Belfast in October 2010 that considered and shared good practice in the field of promoting language and culture in minority language communities. The Belfast conference was attended by practitioners and policymakers from all BIC member Administrations.
Ministers agreed that projects to support the use of indigenous and minority languages by young people, in families and in the wider community should be supported by Governments. Ministers also noted the importance of adopting a government-led strategy to promote the use of indigenous and minority languages, and they agreed to share best practice in the BIC when developing such strategies. Ministers commended the organisation of a seminar for practitioners working in the field of promoting the use of indigenous and minority languages among young people. The seminar, which preceded the ministerial meeting, offered an opportunity for Administrations to share best practice in the field and to further develop their strategies in that important aspect of language planning.
In response to a recommendation from the 2009 Jersey summit, the seminar was arranged in partnership with the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity (NPLD), which is a pan-European network that encompasses constitutional, regional and smaller-state languages to promote linguistic diversity in the context of a multilingual Europe. Ministers welcomed the opportunity for practitioners from BIC member Administrations to share experiences with European partners through the involvement of NPLD.
Ministers reviewed the work that has been achieved by the work stream since the previous ministerial meeting in 2006 and noted its positive contribution in ensuring that best practice is shared among member Administrations. Ministers considered and approved proposals for the future work programme of the indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages working group. The group will continue with its work in the areas of education, young people, broadcasting and the economic impact of indigenous and minority languages. It was agreed that the group should revisit the field of legislation in the context of indigenous and minority languages. The group will also focus on two new areas, namely marketing and information technology, with a particular emphasis on social networking.
Ministers tasked the BIC working group with identifying further synergies with the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity to gain maximum leverage from public resources in that area, and they asked the group to evaluate the work that has been undertaken since 2006 and to consider how the outcomes can be disseminated to stakeholders.
Miss M McIlveen (The Chairperson of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure): The Minister made reference in the statement to the fact that the indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages working group would continue with its work in the areas of education, young people and broadcasting. Will she outline in some detail the group’s work to date, the manner in which the work will continue and the budget that is allocated to that work?
Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for her question. We are actually getting an appraisal of the work done on this to date. It was mentioned that the work done since 2006 needs to be evaluated. From the meeting, this is a new concept, particularly the development of work around young people and social networking, primarily using things like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. It was discussed at the meeting prior to the formal BIC ministerial meeting, along with the usage of it. We are anticipating an evaluation of the work done since 2006 and an update report on progress, particularly in relation to information technology and with a focus on social networking. I assure the Chair of the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee that we will provide updates to the Committee when we get them.
Mr Sheehan: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Will the Minister outline whether there are any plans to share the experiences of other members of the British-Irish Council in regard to language Acts and strategies?
Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. As outlined in the statement, that is the intention. There is and will be a focus on the legislative approach to languages, particularly around strategies and Acts. I spoke to the Welsh commissioner and the Scottish Minister about legislation around Acts and strategies to help to promote and to protect the languages of those respective countries.
Mr Swann: Minister, I note that the indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages working group is going to revisit the field of legislation in the context of indigenous and minority languages. Will the Minister give her assessment of the benefits of legislation that deals with indigenous and minority languages coterminously, rather than as single entities?
Ms Ní Chuilín: I am struggling with the Member’s question. Legislation is not unionist or nationalist; it is for all. It is about the protection of languages. If I am getting the Member right, it is about how legislation will help to promote and to protect the status of the Irish language and Ulster Scots.
(…) It will also strengthen the links North/South and, indeed, east-west. It is primarily about the protection of languages and of their status.
Mr McGlone: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as ucht na bhfreagraí go nuige seo. I thank the Minister for the responses so far.
An féidir leis an Aire rud éigin a chur in iúl dúinn? Déanann sí tagairt maidir le straitéis ó thaobh an dá Rialtas ar leathanach 2. An féidir léi eolas a roinnt linn maidir leis na straitéisí sin? Chomh maith leis sin, an féidir léi cur in iúl dúinn faoi na moltaí i dtaobh an chláir oibre i dtaobh na dteangacha is lú úsáid agus na Gaeilge, faoi mar atá luaite ar leathanach 3?
Will the Minister please give us some detail on the collaboration between both Governments in developing strategies for indigenous and minority languages? In her statement, she referred to proposals for the future work programme of the indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages working group. Will she share some information about the progress that has been made on both those points?
Ms Ní Chuilín: The Member said “both Governments”, but I am not too sure which Governments. I referred to the Scottish and Welsh Governments. If the Member is referring to how the language of those jurisdictions has been protected, I made that clear.
On the issue of the working group, we brought forward, for example, the Líofa initiative in September. All the member states were enthused and excited about that because they are all at different levels of development in protecting and developing their languages. That should form a part, so the lessons learned from us — good practice, things we could do better — will be shared. In addition, my primary focus and concern is the development of an Irish language Act and the two separate strategies. It will be one of those issues where each Administration shares progress on each development regarding the protection of languages. That information is collated and shared with each Administration, so we do not have to wait from one BIC meeting to the next to find out where good practice exists or what works and what does not.
Mr Lunn: I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate that there was a conference in Belfast in October 2010 and some sort of summit meeting in Jersey in 2009, but does the Minister think that a ministerial meeting every five years is sufficient to give the subject the priority that it deserves? To satisfy my curiosity, will she also confirm which minority languages people are concerned about in Jersey and Guernsey?
Ms Ní Chuilín: Each of those Administrations is producing proposals for developing their language. Obviously, there are difficulties with that development, but each Administration that comes to the table is afforded the same respect. I will not get into which language the proposals relate to because that is not my business.
The Member’s question was whether five years between meetings is too long. I cannot comment on what happened before I became Minister. However, I will say that I and each Administration have made a commitment to share information where possible. It is not acceptable to wait from one sectoral meeting to the next to share good practice. Representatives of each Administration at those meetings are genuinely enthusiastic about the development and protection of language and about ensuring that every language has equal status. I am happy to share any lessons that we can learn from the development of all that, and I accept that that is also the case for the other Administrations.
Mr Irwin: I thank the Minister for her statement. In response to the question from my colleague Michelle McIlveen, the Minister stated that work carried out since 2006 was being evaluated. Why was an evaluation not carried out before? What is the timescale for the evaluation?
Ms Ní Chuilín: A unionist Minister was in this post from 2007, so you need to ask your colleagues why that did not happen. Under my watch, there will be an evaluation, and we will share that with the Committee. If you want to put in any specific questions in writing, either directly or through the Chairperson, I would be happy to respond.
Mr Ó hOisín: Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a chuid freagraí go dtí seo. To date, what discussions have taken place on the Líofa 2015 campaign?
Ms Ní Chuilín: As I outlined in response to an earlier question, I presented the Líofa initiative during a discussion on sharing initiatives that sit outside the commitments that Administrations and Governments have already made on language progress and protection. The smaller Administrations in particular were looking for ideas about how to encourage people to get involved in learning and development. I have to say that the enthusiasm for Líofa was obvious, and I intend, through this format and others, where possible, to ensure that the different Administrations are as aware of it as possible. Certainly, the smaller Administrations will come here to talk to people who have signed up for and will learn through Líofa. Indeed, they will talk to me and my Department about how they could possibly replicate it.
Mr Dallat: The Minister will have noticed on her trip to Gweedore that one way in which languages are promoted is though road signage. I am sure that she also noticed the signs in Wales and the promotion of Scots Gaelic in the northern part of Scotland. What discussions took place to ensure the promotion of Irish on road signs here?
Ms Ní Chuilín: I thank the Member for his question. For the record, I have not been to Wales or Scotland but I was in Gweedore and I did see the signs. My colleague Conor Murphy introduced bilingual signage and made sure that the Irish language was visible to road users. It is unfortunate that that did not continue. At the end of the day, this is part of the strategy and will be part of the Irish language Act. However, as Conor Murphy demonstrated, you do not need to wait until that happens before you do the right thing.
Mrs Hale: Will the Minister share with us any examples of best practice for developing strategies to promote the use of indigenous and minority languages that were raised at the meeting?
Ms Ní Chuilín: Best practice has been that the strategies have been brought forward. The Administrations have consulted extensively and have asked language groups and the wider community how those strategies need to be progressed in respect of what Governments should provide and how Governments are going to protect indigenous languages. I spoke to Minister of State Dinny McGinley TD, the Welsh Commissioner and Alasdair Allan MSP and they are looking to review and to evaluate their strategies to see that they are not just about value for money and effectiveness but are doing what they are supposed to, which is to protect and enhance the development of each language.