Thursday, 11 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
111. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if the funding provided by the Ulster-Scots Agency to a festival (details supplied) was used to organise centenary celebrations of partition and of the creation of a sectarian statelet in the North of Ireland; her views on the appropriateness of this use of State funds by a Good Friday Agreement body; and her further views on whether it appropriate for a Good Friday Agreement body to be co-financing and endorsing a festival, which she acknowledged in response to Parliamentary Question No. 315 of 2 November 2021 involved a living history component celebrating the sectarian B-Specials. [55155/21]
My question relates to the appropriateness of the use of funding from this State, via the Ulster-Scots Agency, to fund a celebration of partition and an event celebrating the sectarian paramilitary B-Specials.
The Ulster-Scots Agency is an agency of the North/South Language Body, one of six North-South implementation bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. The work of the agency is funded jointly by the Northern Ireland Executive, through the Department of Communities, and the Government of Ireland, through the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and the Media. As the Deputy will be aware, the Department of Communities is under the remit of his Sinn Féin colleague, Ms Deirdre Hargey MLA. That Department provides 75% of funding for this agency. I trust the Deputy will also engage with his colleague to pursue the issue to his satisfaction.
As per my previous response to a parliamentary question, the Ulster-Scots Agency informed my Department that it awarded the sum of £2,359 to a two-day festival of the Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture, in accordance with the mandate of the Ulster-Scots Agency, which relates to the promotion of greater awareness and use of Ullans and of Ulster-Scots cultural issues, both within Northern Ireland and throughout the island. The programme included a variety of activities which provided opportunities for people of all ages to engage with different aspects of Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture. As I have previously informed the Deputy, funding was neither sought nor allocated by the Ulster-Scots Agency for the living history component mentioned. The group funded that element from its own resources. To be absolutely clear, the agency funded a singer for a selection from Sam Henry's Songs of the People; a talk on the works of Sam Henry; an arts and crafts workshop; an Ulster-Scots language workshop; traditional Ulster-Scots music, poetry and dancing; and hiring a bandstand and sound system. It is important to factually set out what the agency did or did not fund.
As the Deputy will be aware, we are now in the final and perhaps most challenging period of the Decade of Centenaries. The events of the period now being commemorated, which include the foundation of Northern Ireland, radically altered relationships on this island. We are acutely conscious that the events of this period do not belong exclusively to one tradition or another. I will outline further details in my supplementary reply.
I am aware of exactly what the Ulster-Scots Agency has stated it funded. However, that is not reflected in the poster for the event. The poster refers to Northern Ireland centenary celebrations and a historical re-enactment of the B-Specials. It states the event is backed up by the Ulster-Scots Agency. That is reflected in the poster. I do not know whether subsequent to this emerging, the Ulster-Scots Agency has been encouraged or asked by the Minister of State or his Department to disassociate from that event, in particular the part that celebrates partition and, even worse, the part which celebrates the B-Specials and its role in Irish history in the nearly 50 years it existed.
I thank the Deputy for his question. I want to be clear that funding was neither sought nor allocated by the Ulster-Scots Agency for the living history component the Deputy has mentioned. It is important that we are factual about this matter. I hope the Deputy is not undermining agencies of the Good Friday Agreement in what he is trying to do here. It is also important to note that the Deputy's Sinn Féin colleague in the North, the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA, provides 75% of the funding for this agency, while the Irish Government provides 25% of the funding. We have sought a breakdown, as I outlined, of where the £2,500 was actually allocated. I referenced some of those activities, which included an arts and crafts workshop, art and the Lambeg drum, a language workshop for children, Ulster-Scots music, a display of Scottish country music and dancing, drumming, Scottish and highland music, traditional Ulster-Scots music, the hiring of a sound system, language and poetry. That is what the agency funded and it is for that I am accountable to this House and for which the Deputy's colleague in the North is accountable to the Assembly in the North. I hope the Deputy will be taking up his variety of questions with her as well.
As I said earlier, I have raised this issue with my colleague. She is not answerable to me because she is a Minister of the Assembly and the Minister of State needs to bear that in mind. The matter has been raised in the council, which also part-funded this event. I will repeat my supplementary question in the hope I will get an answer this time. Has the Ulster-Scots Agency been asked to disassociate from the part of the event, which celebrated the deeds of the B-Specials? I did not ask what exactly the funding was. The Ulster-Scots Agency is associated with the event because it is referred to on the poster. There is no disassociation. It is not said that the agency funded a stage, which was used as a part of the event.
The Department sought to find out exactly where the funding from the Ulster-Scots Agency went. I have set that out and it is important we are factual about what it did or did not fund. I have been informed that the particular component of the event to which the Deputy has referred was funded by the organisers themselves and not by the Ulster-Scots Agency. That is the factual position. We sought answers on that to get a breakdown of what the agency did or did not fund.
To me, partition was devastating for this country. I believe in uniting our people and bringing people of all traditions on this island together, underpinned by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which is about respecting difference and history. We sought a breakdown of what was funded. It is important that we provide a factual basis for that. Funding was neither sought nor allocated by the Ulster Scots Agency for the component the Deputy referred to.