Examination of Witnesses (Questions 820
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
23 NOVEMBER 2005Mr
Ferdie MacanFhailigh, Mr Jim Millar, Aoda«n Mac Póilin
and Mr John MacIntyre
Q820 Lord Peston:
You have covered almost everything I was going to ask, but since
you have mentioned globalisation, another thought I had in mind
is that you are not the only part of the world where people are
trying to preserve a language as part of preserving their culturethe
Basques are ones that immediately come to mind. Do you have contact
with people like the Basques and others? Do they have, for example,
their own television station?
Mr MacanFhailigh: We have, facilitated by the
Bwrdd y laith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Board, set up a network
of official language boards including ourselves and Foras Na Gaeilge,
Bord na Gaeilge in Scotland, Bwrdd y laith Gymraeg in Wales, the
Basques, the Galicians, the Catalans, the Friesians
Q821 Lord Peston:
They were the other ones I was going to ask you about.
Mr MacanFhailigh: The Swedish Finns, so we have
a network of language boards which were set up last year, 2004.
Q822 Lord Peston:
My question was not really thatthat is the backgroundbut
what about their access when it comes to television and radio?
I am interested in the Basques because of football and all that,
but is there a great deal of Basque language television, as far
as you know, and do they press for it?
Mr Mac Póilin: Basically, how long do
you have? I could keep you here until this time tomorrow and we
would not have finished that particular subject. The services
for different minority language communities even within the European
context are so various that some do better than us and some do
much worse than us. That is the simple answer to that. I would
like to come back to a deeper question that was raised here, which
is the question of the value of minority language and their cultures
within the society within the United Kingdom. It is a question
of cultural ecology. The approach that I take to it is that there
are civilisations within this state and within this society that
have survived for the last 2000 years and they are in danger,
they are weakening; they are weakening because of the enormous
force of a more dominant language that is the majority language
within the community. Any society that does not treasure its minorities,
does not treasure the value of those civilisations, those very
ancient civilisationseven if they are weak, you do not
go round and count heads and say, "There are only 50,000
of you, we will not do anything else for you." The value
of that diversity, the historic diversity within the community
is of enormous importance, I think, and any civilised society
that ignores it and lets its minorities die without making an
effort to support them, should not be called a civilised society,
it is as simple as that. What has been done for Gaelic, I would
support; what has been done for Welsh I would support, and basically
what we are saying is it should be done here as well.
Mr MacanFhailigh: I would just like to make
one point. What we are talking about here is a question of access,
and if this was a question of disability access we would not be
having this conversation that we are having today, and this is
a question of access for those people.
And Ulster-Scots, everything that has been said, you would probably
Mr MacIntyre: Absolutely, totally agree, and
it is about human ecology. You have to realise that we as a race
colonised every part of the earth up to the Polesexcept
the South Poleand we have done that because we have been
different, and here we are in a situation where we are actually
trying to edit out the difference and that difference is what
made us successful as a species, and we are actually undermining
ourselves as a species by not respecting that difference and encouraging
it. The other thing is that it is rather silly to believe that
one language, whether it is English or Spanish, can contain the
sum total of human knowledge. There is no one language that can
contain the sum total of human knowledge; all languages can contribute
to human knowledge. If you kill off one language you are killing
off a part of that human knowledge. The other point I would like
to make is, we are not talking big money here to do these things.
For instance, on Ulster-Scots radio station all we actually need
is for Ofcom to give us a licence because we have three business
models that we could follow: one would be a commercial model,
one would be maybe a community voluntary model accessing existing
funding bodies. So even to give us that you would be sustaining
difference. And it is about will; in many cases it not about resources,
it is about will.
Q824 Lord Maxton:
Do you have your own website?
Mr MacIntyre: Yes.
Q825 Lord Maxton:
Do you have voice radio on that?
Mr MacIntyre: We are trying to set that up.
Q826 Lord Maxton:
That obviously is at least one way in which you can get to your
Mr Millar: I think the interesting thing about
that is you have just highlighted the strength in radio, in as
much as radio is about speaking and about listening. I take very
much the points that both Aoda«n and Ferdie have made, and
also John, about language development. I think the significant
difference between Ulster-Scots and Irish is that we are in the
position that maybe Irish was in 40 or 50 years ago, where Irish
was seen as a lower status type of language. The role that the
BBC can play with regard to supporting the sustainability of Ulster-Scots
is incredibly important. If young people can tune into radio and
they can hear this language that their parents speak, that they
might have some notion of speaking also, and that is on radio,
then that means such a significant amount to making the difference
between the language sustaining or struggling through for the
next number of decades.
Q827 Lord Maxton:
A separate radio is one thing, but having part of the normal radio
programmes as part of using either of the languages in that, for
what are minorities, is questionable, is it not? A separate one
I can fully support.
Mr MacIntyre: BBC Northern Ireland has to reflect
the population it serves and the situation is that it is a minority
but still quite a substantial minority who speak either Irish
or Ulster-Scots, and it is not asking for a lot, but that they
would get maybe a portion of broadcasting time. We are talking
maybe an hour at the most a day out of nearly 24 hours' broadcasting
time, and that these programmes are not inaccessible to the whole
community. I do not speak Irish but one of the radio programmes
I listen to is a music programme and the link is done in Irish,
but it is the same as any other programme, it is popular music
and I listen because the music selection is good. There is no
reason why you could not do an Ulster-Scots programme where the
links are done in Ulster-Scots.
We will come back to you in a moment, and I will come back to
Lord Maxton as well because he has a number of last questions,
but let me ask you one question which I think is quite interesting.
There is a BBC survey that found that it was the younger people
in Northern Ireland who are more positive about the Irish language
programming than people over 35. Is that your experience?
Mr MacanFhailigh: If we look at it in terms
of the growth of Irish-medium education and the growth of the
popularity of Irish as a subject in mainstream education, for
want of a better term, the growth of Irish in the last 20 years
has been phenomenal. So the majority of Irish speakers in the
north are younger peopleand I would like to class myself
as one of those! But that is the age of the majority of the population
who speak Irish.
Is that the same with you? Is it younger people who are showing
the most interest?
Mr MacIntyre: The honest answer is we do not
know; there is no census information.
Q830 Lord Maxton:
You do not gather any yourselves?
Mr MacIntyre: We have very limited resources;
we do not have the funding.
What is your impression?
Mr Millar: One of the threatening issues is
that there is some recent research being conducted at the University
of Ulster at Londonderry and primary results about the use of
Ulster-Scots would indicate that the age range of the people who
are using Ulster-Scots is in the upper age range. That, if you
like, brings a significant problem to the language because if
Ulster-Scots is being used by people in the older age range then
that, if you like, accelerates the difficulty that is facing Ulster-Scots.
If you have a language that lives only through people who are
in their 50s or their 60s then that is a very worrying sign.
So you are in a rather different position in fact to those speaking
the Irish language?
Mr MacIntyre: Part of the issue about Ulster-Scots
is that because the census figures are not available this is purely
It sounds as though it might be a more urgent issue, is another
way of putting it.
Mr MacIntyre: Yes, I would say it is an extremely
Lord Maxton: I have to say I find that
my sons who speak, as I say, Lanarkshire-Scots have probably three
different oral languages: they have one at home with me, one at
work and one in the pub at night, and they are almost different
in what they say at different points. In one of them they will
be fairly broad Lanarkshire and in the rest they may not be. We
have covered the questions on dedicated services.
Q834 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Mr McIntyre, is it absolutely necessary with the future of digital
switchover and lots and lots of new channels and so on that it
is the BBC that supplies what you are asking for?
Mr MacIntyre: My answer to that would be that
we need our own dedicated channel; that we cannot depend on the
BBC because if you are a BBC Radio Ulster English language channel
all they can do is to give some sort of token provision to reflect
the diversity of our society; they cannot give us the sort of
broadcasting that we need. We need our own dedicated channel.
Q835 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Would you be happy with that? Would that be sufficient? You are
not fighting for a BBC voice, necessarily?
Mr MacIntyre: We have nothing at the moment.
If we do not have the BBC we just have nothing.
Mr Millar: I wonder if I could make a contribution?
Whilst I accept in the main what John is saying I think we have
to recognise that the BBC is the single biggest broadcaster in
this country and in Northern Ireland and also in the UK, and I
think the validation of the language would be seen much more significantly
from contributions from the BBC, and I think whilst it is right
and proper that in the fullness of time we seek an opportunity
for our own language broadcasting medium I think that the BBC
has a responsibility to its licence fee payers, but also I think
it has a significant role to play in making sure that that broadcast
is available throughout the whole of Northern Ireland.
Let us sum up on this. Basically what you are both saying is that
you are underrepresented on the BBC quite substantially and that
an urgent way forward is for that representation to be increased.
In fact is it fair to say that you cannot really think of any
other single measure which would do more to help?
Mr Millar: Absolutely, and radio in particular
and the way that people develop their language skills is through
listening, speaking, reading and writing. So the very start of
that learning process is listening and that is what radio provides.
That would be your view as well?
Mr MacanFhailigh: In terms that we have 250
hours of radio at present annually, and given the level of development
that we are at, we are working towards a normalisation of the
language. As a public service broadcasterand I said it
beforethe 10.3 per cent of the population is deserving
of a better service than is being provided. But the BBC also has
a responsibility to non-speakers, as I said earlier, to enable
them to gain an understanding of the language and of the attendant
culture. We are talking here about the normalisation of a language,
and what Lord Maxton referred to earlier on, and Lady Bonham-Carter,
to dedicated channels. We are talking here about normalisation
of languages and acceptance of languages, especially in terms
of Northern Ireland where there are perceptionslet us be
honest about thisof languages. The perceptions that people
have of languages comes from the baggage that they have in their
heads regarding those languages, that is where it comes from.
Language is merely a series of grunts which we have learned to
interpret in one way, and it is when the perceptions of those
languages are put on them that languages start to have different
meanings for people. So in terms of the normalisation of languages
here I think that the BBC has a responsibility as well to provide
an enhanced service for the Irish language.
You have all put your case extremely well, extremely thoroughly.
Is there anything that we have missed out in any way, any point
that you feel you have not sufficiently emphasised? I think we
have the message.
Mr MacIntyre: I think the one issue that maybe
was not raised was broadcasting and the European Charter, how
you would align the obligations of the Charter with broadcasting,
and I would broadly make the point that we need to try and align
Mr Mac Póilin: We have said it before
and you have probably picked it up, but I would not mind saying
it again, that the only way that what we are proposing can be
protected within the structure is actually for it to be written
into the White Paper.
Q839 Lord Maxton:
You did say that right at the beginning.
Mr Mac Póilin: I did, and I just say
Chairman: A good journalistic thing is to start
your article and finish it with the same point. Thank you very
much indeed, we are very grateful for your evidence; we have learnt
a lot in a short space of time. If we have any points perhaps
we could write to you with them. Thank you very much for coming