Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
23 NOVEMBER 2005Mr
Ferdie MacanFhailigh, Mr Jim Millar, Aoda«n Mac Póilin
and Mr John MacIntyre
If I were the BBC or if I were the Chief Secretary to the Treasury
or something like that, what would you say about demand? Is there
a demand for this to take place? Obviously you feel strongly on
it, but what is the objective evidence of demand?
Mr MacanFhailigh: We have the census figures;
we also have in Irish-medium education at the minute just in excess
of 4,000 kids in Northern Ireland in Irish-medium education. The
Council for the Promotion of Irish-medium Education, if they meet
their strategic objectives by 2008, there will be somewhere in
the region of 10,000 kids involved in Irish-medium education.
It is a burgeoning sector; it is a growing sector. From when the
question was first put in 1991 on the census regarding the Irish
language the numbers have grown. The Irish speaking population,
whom we are here to represent, feel that the service provided
on BBC television is non-existent, practicallyfive hours
annually. The service for the schools sector, Irish in Irish-medium
education is part of the core curriculum. There is a provision
for the English-medium sector in Bitesize, for Irish at
GCSE. This is the only place where Irish is studied for GCSE;
they have provided that provision. But in terms of the Irish speaking
population hereand let us not forget that in England, Scotland
and Wales there are also a large number of Irish speakers from
the republic of Ireland, who have emigrated, who are there, and
that those people also deserve a service to be provided by the
Mr Mac Póilin: Could I add to that that
the only firm figures we have are the responses to the Ofcom 3
consultation? There are more responses on the Irish language from
here than on all the rest of the issues that were raised. I think
it was something like 53 per cent of the responses related to
the Irish language. I am not just talking about myself and Ferdie's
commitment to this, this is the only objective figure we have,
and the level of the response to the consultation on the Renewal
of the BBC Charter has been very, very high, and we can pull out
those figures for you.
Yes, we would be interested. Just tell us about what your first
feelings are as far as Ulster-Scots is concerned.
Mr MacIntyre: I did circulate that statement.
Mr MacIntyre: So we have that and I will refer
to it. In 2005 there will be 10 and a half hours of broadcasting
Ulster-Scots, and it will be mostly on the radio. I do not know
what the TV is, it might be one hour, it might be two hours, but
that is all it is. It comes on an occasional basis, people do
not know when it is going to come; it comes for maybe four weeks
and then it stops and then another series runs later on. We feel
that there has to be a minimum level of provision and we would
say that a programme time has to be raised, and we would put 30
minutes as a reasonable programme length, and that has to be regular.
Before you go into what it is that you actually want in detail,
what is the evidence of demand?
Mr MacIntyre: In the paper that I did give you
the evidence we have is that The Nicht o Ulster-Scots programming
there was the third highest popular programme that year; it came
third after a Celtic v Rangers match and after a Country Times
programme. The figures for the other programmes we know were high
but those figures are not in the public domain so we do not know
exactly what they are, and the BBC could supply those figures.
The feedback we are getting is that the viewing figures are high
and the feedback we get in the community is that we know a lot
of people watch it and they tell us how much they enjoyed it.
So we get that sort of analytical feedback as well. Some of us
who have been active with Ulster-Scots have appeared on some of
these programmes and you always have people coming up and talking
to you about them. Even a programme that I appeared on three years,
I still have people tapping me on the shoulder and talking to
me about it. So there is an audience there for it.
Mr Millar: I think one of the significant difficulties
with regard to making an assessment of how much programming should
be available on the BBC is the assessment of the level of Ulster-Scots
speakers within Northern Ireland and within the nine counties
of Ulster generally. So one of the big difficulties, I think,
is the census. Whenever you ask Ferdie and Aoda«n those questions
about how they would justify it, they both go back to the census
and say, "This is the census that tells us exactly how many
speakers there are." I think there is a real need for us
to establish the actual extent to which there is a significant
interest and enthusiasm for Ulster-Scots. People like John and
myself are convinced that there is a significant level of enthusiasm.
One of the difficulties with Ulster-Scots is that it is so close
to English and some people who are fluent speakers, who are native
Ulster-Scots speakersand you, sir, probably will recognise
this sentimentsome people do not regard themselves even
as Ulster-Scots speakers because they think they are speaking
bad English, and all of that information that is contained in
their heads is because of the way that the educational system
has used this. So whilst John might say that there are 34,000
or 35,000 Ulster-Scots speakers in Northern Ireland, that figure
could be grossly underestimated and it could be ten-fold as much
figures on the actual Ulster-Scots speakers. In terms of the BBC,
I think there is a great issue about confidence for people who
are speakers, to use Ulster-Scots because it has been so undervalued.
I think that the role that the BBC has to play in that is in terms
of allowing people the opportunity to see that there is a valued
linguistic tradition within this country. John is quite right
to indicate that there is 10 hours of language on BBC radioand
that is in stark comparison to over 240 hours for Irish language.
We do not expect that both languages, because they are at different
levels of development, should have the same type of commitment
from the BBC, but we expect that as time goes on the gap between
Irish and Ulster-Scots should begin to close. But I think in fact
the reality is that the gap is increasingly becoming larger, and
that would be of some concern. There is a background in the BBC
in terms of Ulster-Scots programming, but clearly there is no
long-term joined-up strategy in the way in which the Ulster-Scots
programmes are developed. Ten hours of language, there was another
19 hours of programming that could be linked to some form of Ulster-Scots
culture, whether it was A Touch of Tartan or Pipes and
Drums, or whatever, but all of those programmes are organised
by different producers and it shows that it is a separate set
of individuals within the BBC who are dealing with those issues.
What we would like to see would be some systematic, some rigorous
way of organising the development of Ulster-Scots programmes within
Northern Ireland to reflect the growing enthusiasm and interest
that John has already highlighted for Ulster-Scots.
Has it ever been better than it is now? Have the television and
radio ever covered Ulster-Scots better than they do now?
Mr Millar: I think whenever we look at the level
of provision it is virtually zero, and that has to be under all
the legislation. Aoda«n talked about the European Charter
and Ulster-Scots is recognised within the European Charter and
it is recognised within the Good Friday Agreement.
Yes, but if you go back to 1990 would it have been any different?
Mr Millar: No.
Q806 Lord Peston:
Just going back to the adequacy of the provision at the moment.
I did not ask these questions this morning because they did not
occur to me until hearing this morning's evidence, but two aspects
of provision which are not exactly programmed occurred to me whilst
I was thinking about this morning. Is any bit of the Radio
Times published in Northern Ireland in Irish?
Mr Mac Póilin: The titles of the programmes,
if they are in Irish.
Q807 Lord Peston:
But there is no Irish version or even sub-version of the Radio
Mr Mac Póilin: It would not bother me
what language they are published in.
Q808 Lord Peston:
It would not? You would like programmes in Irish but you do not
care whether the listings are in Irish?
Mr Mac Póilin: No, I do not care.
Q809 Lord Peston:
Would you therefore take the same view about Teletext? Again,
when I was flicking through Teletext I could not see any Teletext
in our hotel. Is there a Teletex in Irish?
Mr MacanFhailigh: No. The only thing that is
available in those terms in Irish is on the website. BBC have
Bitesize revision for GCSE and they have produced a GCSE
Irish in that. In terms of Teletex, Radio Times, nothing.
Again, as Aoda«n said, in terms of what language the TV,
the Radio Times is published in, I do not care.
Q810 Lord Peston:
No, but you do care about education and promoting the language.
I am a devotee of Teletext, I would rather watch Teletext than
any of the news programmes because it gives me all I want; it
just tells me the simple news and that is good enough for me,
and I do not want any comment. But if I were trying to promote
the Irish language I would very much want Teletext to be in Irish
because it is an ideal form; it is easy to understand and it would
help the younger people in particular to get used to the language.
But that does not bother you?
Mr MacanFhailigh: I would not object to it,
but I would not see it as a priority.
Lord Maxton: Do RTÉ run a Teletext,
or TG4? I hear from Mr O Ciardha that young people are not great
users of Teletext.
Q811 Lord Peston:
I did not realise it was an old person's thing, I must drop it
Mr Mac Póilin: Could I pick up on a point
arising from what Jim said earlier, about losing it, and support
what he is saying? The BBC can do much more Ulster-Scots material
with the culture and linguistically without the displacement element
that will happen with Irish. I have been arguing for a long, long
time that Ulster-Scots should be in the mainstream within BBC
Northern Ireland because it is accessible to most of the population
here. Most people who are brought up here have a latent understanding
of Ulster-Scots; there is a fair degree of intensity. Most Ulster-Scots
people I will understand and I would like to see a lot more of
them on the TV and I would like to see it mainstream, and it should
happen. Irish is different in that the language is so different
from English that it requires a different genre, but I would totally
support what Jim is saying about this very important thread of
our culture being seen in the most important medium.
Q812 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
It is interesting what you have said because I wanted to ask that
of Mr Millar. When you were talking about the Ulster-Scots programmes
I was wondering whether it was as much about culture as language.
Is it certain events?
Mr Millar: I think there is a difficulty in
as much as whenever BBC programmers say, "We have presented
some Ulster-Scots programmes", so the definition of what
is an Ulster-Scots programme therefore becomes important. What
we are saying is that strictly in terms of language issues I think
it is important that we recognise there are 10 and a half hours
which represents 20 half-hour programmes on BBC Radio dedicated
solely to people speaking Ulster-Scots and talking about Ulster-Scots
issues, and that is the extent of it. I think to a certain extent
there may be some massaging of figures whenever we talk about
some of the other programmes. That might be a small part of the
cultural element towards linking language with Ulster-Scots culture,
but the hard reality of life here is that we have 10 hours of
Ulster-Scots language. To pick up again on the point that Aoda«n
made, one of the great things about Ulster-Scots is that it offers
an opportunity for people from both sides of our religious divide
in Northern Ireland to engage in their own personal linguistic
development, and I think that is sometimes an issue that is understated
in this country. So I am not necessarily saying that because someone
is an Ulster-Scots speaker de facto they are Protestant
or a Unionist or whatever label you wish to ascribe to that. It
covers the whole spectrum of life. It is mainly a rural condition
in terms of people coming from particular backgrounds who have
an understanding of the use of Ulster-Scots.
Q813 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
But are you suggesting that some programming is called Ulster-Scots
programming, which is not in your stance?
Mr Millar: Yes, absolutely, that is exactly
what I am saying, that there is some Ulster-Scots programming
which is defined as Ulster-Scots but really it is not. What we
are talking about here is language programmes and language programmes
for me, by definition, are Ulster-Scots speakers talking about
Mr MacIntyre: Could I come in with a comment
there? Some of the programming is what we call the animal in the
cage syndrome. It is where a producer or production staff from
outside the Ulster-Scots community makes a programme on Ulster-Scots
or about it, but it is actually made by the outside community.
We have compared it to putting an animal in a cage and poking
it with a stick to see what it will do. What we really need are
people from the Ulster-Scots community, trained in production,
who can then make programmes for the community. I am not saying
we should not use outside producers but there needs to be a balance
here, and that balance does not exist at the moment.
Q814 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Is that something that you think is the responsibility of the
Mr MacIntyre: The BBC are the people who transmit
the material and commission it, so they are in a position to influence
Q815 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Moving on to the case of Gaelic, Ofcom suggested that there should
be an enhanced relationship between the BBC and TG4 in order to
encourage more time spent. Is that the way forward, do you think?
Mr Mac Póilin: It is not the only way
forward. There are certain elements in the service that can only
be done by the BBC, for example the education service. There is
also an element in that it is extremely important within this
society that basically Irish broadcasting is not entirely the
purview of a station that is broadcasting from another state,
from a neighbouring friendly country, or state anyway.
Q816 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
If we are talking co-productions?
Mr Mac Póilin: The fact that the BBC
has begun to broadcast in Irishand it is only recently,
previously it has broadcast in Welsh since the 1920s, and even
before there was a BBC the BBC was doing itthat impact,
of a major institution within the United Kingdom broadcasting
on lines that were previously excluded, has made an enormous difference
to the perception of that language in society. It has led to the
normalisation, acceptance of that language in society, so it is
very important for us that the BBC does things on its own for
that reason. Also, because basically we are licence payers here
as well and we deserve a service from our licence fee as opposed
to somebody else's licence fee. I would welcome cooperation but
I think that the BBC also needs to do things on its own in education
and in general programming as well, just basically to show that
Irish speakers are part of this society. It is a symbolic significance
but it is extremely important. There are also elements and programmes
and interests that the society here hasand I speak as a
northernerand we actually do not share all that much with
the south. There are particularities here that people in the south
might not be interested in. So TG Ceathair's priorities and broadcasting
priorities may not necessarilyand I know they do their
best, but they do not live hererecognise what we as a community
need as a television broadcasting service.
Q817 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Of course we heard earlier that there was a great pool of talent
in the south; there was no lack of people to make Gaelic programmes.
Is that true in the north?
Mr MacanFhailigh: In terms of the north television
production is very young. The Irish Language Broadcast Fund has
been set up by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, essentially
to educate, train and grow what is a very, very young sector here
in the north. There is, as you have said, a larger pool in the
south, which the BBC could tap into. In terms of what Aoda«n
was saying a minute ago about co-productions with TG Ceathair,
yes, the BBC could do that, but just to emphasise the point that
he made we are talking here about a normalisation of the language,
and the BBC as a public sector broadcaster has a responsibility
to the Irish speaking community, but it also has a responsibility
to enable non-speakers of Irish to gain an insight and an understanding
of the language and its attendant culture.
Q818 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Of course it would be broadcast by the BBC.
Mr MacanFhailigh: Yes.
Q819 Lord Maxton:
But in Wales and in Scotland they have had ring fencing funding,
particularly in Scotland, with Gaelicin Eastern Wales it
is a fair proportion of the populationnot just from the
BBC but also from STV. The new Scottish Parliament Executive has
taken positive action to try and encourage it and have even made
it now a second language in the sense that signing and whatnot
is to be in Gaelic, and yet despite all that effort being made
it is now below 60,000 people in Scotland who speak Gaelic. And
the rest of us, if you like, are putting a large amount of money
into preserving and keeping that 60,000 people's language for
them. I think there are some Scots who begin to doubt whether
that is the wisest course to take, and that it might be better
to say, "It is up to you to preserve your language, rather
than for the rest of us."
Mr MacanFhailigh: In terms of numbers here in
Northern Ireland, in the census in 1991 there were 143,000 and
somewhat; in 2001 there were 167,000it went up from 9 per
cent to 10.3 per cent. So in terms of blunt numbers, if you like,
here in Northern Ireland the numbers are growing. But I think
that there is another element here, and that is an element of
an understanding of a culture and of a way of life, if you want
to call it that. I will go back to what you said earlier, the
reference you made to taking speakers of Scots and good speakers
of Burns Scots and recording them. The only thing I can say for
that isLatin. It is not a living language but it is there,
it is recorded. What we have here are living, vibrant languages
and if we lose those then we become poorer both linguistically
and culturally. What we are seeking from the BBC is working towards
the normalisation of languages. It is something that is happening
all over the world; the globalisation, if you like, of English
and Spanish and so on is being resisted, and I think it is very
important that we take those minority languages and cherish them
for what they are, because it is from those that we came.