Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Culture Matters (9)

What exactly is equity?

In a shared and better future our diverse cultural traditions must be treated on a basis of equity and that can be applied in several areas, which I call the four Rs – recognition, respect, resources and representation. 

There must be recognition of the existence of each cultural tradition. Those whose cultural traditions are excluded or ignored will feel themselves to be excluded or ignored and indeed they are being excluded. 

Some years ago Dr Ivan Herbison was speaking at seminar on the Ulster-Scots poetry of the Ulster weaver poets and he referred to the Field Day History of Irish Literature. He continued by saying, ‘Here is what it says about them,’ and then he stood in silence for a minute or more. That silence was powerful and eloquent and it told us that the editors of this influential volume had totally ignored this aspect of Ulster literature. They did not even recognise its existence. 

The denial of recognition is not only to be found in the field of language. I can well recall an encounter with someone employed in the community arts sector, who told me that I was Irish whether I acknowledged it or not! On another occasion a traditional arts officer, who was also an Irish traditional musician, spent much of a meeting arguing with me that there was no such thing as Ulster-Scots traditional music!  Consider too the column inches in some newspapers telling us that unionists have no culture.

Cultural traditions are part of our cultural wealth and as such they should be recognised.

There must be respect for each cultural tradition and it should not be demonised or disparaged. Those whose cultural traditions are demonised or disparaged will feel themselves to be demonised or disparaged.  My culture is part of what I am and to ridicule that culture is to ridicule me personally.

We have seen such demonisation in relation to the Orange Order, with the murder of Orangemen in their halls, the burning of Orange halls, and orchestrated republican opposition to Orange parades. Equally, the burning of GAA halls shows a lack of respect for that culture.

Where public resources are being allocated, then each of our cultural traditions should be treated on the basis of equity and this is about more than money.  As well as public funding it is about such things as access to the media and inclusion in the education system because education and the media are especially important in affirming and promoting cultural traditions.

Apart from the Twelfth broadcasts on television, when is Orange culture reflected in the media? For example, when did the BBC or UTV last produce or broadcast a documentary on the painting of Orange banners? Orange culture is confined to one day in the year, with the coverage of the annual Twelfth celebrations. Yet Gaelic games, which reinforce and validate a Gaelic identity, receive substantial coverage week by week throughout the year. The Twelfth broadcast has the highest viewing figure of any produced locally by the BBC and there is clearly a large potential audience for such programmes.

What too of our education system? What provision is made for cultural traditions in the various sectors of that system? Roman Catholic schools and Irish medium schools have an Irish cultural ethos and they both affirm and validate that culture. They play Gaelic games, they play Irish traditional music and they will be exposed to the Irish language. But is there a corresponding access to the cultural traditions of Protestant children who attend controlled schools?

The fourth area of equality is that of representation. In our society there are publicly appointed bodies that have a specific cultural remit, dealing perhaps with arts, broadcasting, cultural diversity or museums. Our cultural communities should be represented on those bodies and the bodies should be representative of Northern Ireland society, but is that the case? This is actually a denial of an important cultural right, recognised in international agreements, for cultural communities to be represented in the decision making processes that affect their cultures.

Their memberships of these publicly appointed bodies may reflect the religious balance of Protestant and Roman Catholic or the balance of unionist and nationalist but do they reflect the cultural balance of our society? For example, how many members of these public bodies watch a Twelfth demonstration, or go to a pipe band competition or a band parade or a gospel concert? Yet band music and banner painting are gospel music are cultural traditions and forms of artistic activity.

Legislation requires that the memberships of the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission are representative of Northern Ireland society and whilst this requirement is honoured by the NIO more in the breach than the observance, the principle of representativesness has been established.

A shared future is every bit as important as equality and human rights and the requirement for a representative membership should be applied to the organisations that make up the cultural establishment, both in principle and in practice.

1 comment:

  1. I would really like to comment on this topic. Can you withdraw my comments please from the topic that I have ask you to withdraw them from... Thank you!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.