Wednesday, 13 February 2008

This Assembly we'll be educating Catholics and promoting the culture of Protestants

I am in no way a champion of greater funding for the Irish Language, although I believe it does deserve its slice of the budget allocated to culture. However a story from the Irish News highlights that spending on Ulster Scots from the DCAL will soon outstrip spending on Irish and this is instructive of how the sectarian carve-up in government here is directly connected to the fashion in which DUP and SF ministers are managing their departments.

Put simply, ministers such as Edwin Poots and Caitriona Ruane fund and promote their personal and community interests to the exclusion of projects for the other community or projects which would benefit both communities. Ruane’s focus on Irish medium education, whilst her department cannot produce a clear plan to replace academic selection (which will affect everyone) is the classic example. Less publicised was Ruane’s decision to fund primary school language teachers in a scheme to encourage bi-lingualism in our children. What’s the problem there you might ask? Well as O’Neill quite rightly highlighted, only two languages were included in the scheme – Irish, of which enough has been said and Spanish, which Ruane speaks fluently after spending a great deal of time in Latin America. It is rather like me getting the Education Minister’s job and changing all history syllabuses to cover only the genesis of Irish football and Russian history.

This carve-up is not the best way to govern and it is doubtful whether it can be sustainable in the long-term. It becomes increasingly obvious that a viable cross-community opposition is needed to hold Northern Ireland’s Executive to account. Otherwise sectional interests will continue to dominate departments simply on the basis of which minister holds the portfolio.

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