Monday, 2 July 2018

Ulster-Scots excluded once again?

The Thomas D'Arcy McGee International Forum will take place in Carlingford in August and I was interested to receive an e-mail with information about the programme and an invitation to attend..

The e-mail came from the the Ireland Canada University Foundation (ICUF), who are organising the event, and the funders and partners include the ICUF, Air Canada, Dublin City University, and Element Fleet Technology Ireland.

The ICUF was founded in 1993 and seems to be part of the Republic of Ireland's international 'soft power' project, linking the Republic and Canada.

Thomas D'Arcy McGee
Previously known as the Thomas D'Arcy McGee Summer School, it is named for Thomas D'Arcy McGee (1825-1868), who was born in Carlingford.  A Roman Catholic and Irish nationalist, he eventually settled in Canada and became the Father of Canadian Confederation.  He was assassinated in 1868 by Patrick James Whelan, who was believed to be a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, and so this year in the 150th anniversary of his death.

Summer schools can provide an opportunity to hear new things and explore new ideas and I can recall speaking at the summer school back in 2013.  

I was therefore interested to receive an e-mail from the organisers about the 2018 event, especially so when I noticed that the subjects for consideration included 'reconciliation', 'minority languages' and 'identity',

The reference to 'minority languages' was especially significant as we have two indigenous minority languages, Irish Gaelic and Ulster-Scots, both of which are recognised in the Belfast Agreement as part of our 'cultural wealth'.  I wondered who had been selected to speak about the two 'minority languages'.and started to scroll down the list of speakers on the programme.

Professor Regina Ui Chollatain - Irish language academic
The first name I came to was that of Professor Regina Ui Chollatain.  Her brief biography stated that she is head of the School of Irish and Celtic Studies at University College Dublin, has a special interest in Irish language media and is head of the Royal Irish Academy committee for Irish language scholarship.
Linda Ervine - Irish language activist
Beside her photograph and biography were a photograph and biography for Linda Ervine from east Belfast.  She was described as a 'language rights activist' and indeed she has been a strong advocate for an Irish Language Act.  It also stated that she had established the Turas Irish language programme and described her, rather disingenuously, as 'a supporter of the Gaelic Irish language and Ulster-Scots.'

The truth is that on the programme that is being circulated there are two committed Irish language speakers, one a senior academic and the other a community activist.  Meanwhile there is not a single Ulster-Scots advocate about the place.  There is no Ulster-Scots language expert, there is no Ulster-Scots activist and there is no Ulster-Scots enthusiast.

The organisers may turn up a token Ulster-Scot, very belatedly, or they may choose to just ignore us altogether but either way it shows a lack of respect for one of the 'minority languages' they are purporting to consider.

The way forward has to be the way of a 'shared and better' future, based on such principles as equity, diversity and interdependence.  Cultural exclusion is not the way to build that future but it seems that some people have still not learned that lesson.