A founding DUP member said he is “shocked” at the sum of public cash sought by the chief executive of the Ulster-Scots Agency – adding that the amount spent on both Ulster-Scots and Irish should be looked at carefully.
Wallace Thompson described the £140m package which was being asked for to fund Ulster-Scots activities as “daft”, “madness”, and “astronomical” – particularly at a time cutbacks in other parts of public spending are being made.
He went on to suggest that funding more commonly used languages like Polish may be more worthwhile than funding Ulster-Scots.
The former special advisor to Nigel Dodds was reacting to the revelation this week in the News Letter that Ulster-Scots Agency CEO Ian Crozier – a fellow DUP member, and also a former special advisor to Mr Dodds – had penned a paper suggesting £139.55m could be spent on Ulster-Scots activities, spread over a decade.
In his paper, presented to political leaders in April, Mr Crozier suggested only about £17m had been spent on Ulster-Scots affairs from 2011/12 to 2015/16 – about a tenth as much as was spent on the Irish language in the same period.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Thompson – who recently dismissed the idea that Ulster-Scots is a language at all – said it is “reassuring” that the DUP appeared to have distanced itself from Mr Crozier’s funding proposal.
“That’s not to say there shouldn’t be some funding for some elements of what’s outlined in the paper – the bands for example,” said Mr Thompson.
“It’s the amount of money that surprised – and, in fact, shocked – me.”
One of the things the Ulster-Scots paper had said was that even if the £139.55m was forthcoming, it would still be less than was spent in recent years on the Irish language.
Asked if he feels public spending on Irish should be scaled back, Mr Thompson said: “Yeah, I think we need to look at what’s being spent on all of these things, and see where it has been spent and what justification is there for it.
“As I said before, I do think the Irish language is a language – which I don’t necessarily accept at all for Ulster-Scots.
“But I still felt that at a time of austerity and pressure on the budget, these are the areas that need to be carefully monitored and controlled.”
He said if there is a desire to push such “cultural things”, then “funding should probably be found by those who are keen to push them”.
He added: “If there’s a bottomless pot of money, it may be different. There is not.”
As to whether he feels there is a greater need for funding a language like Polish than Ulster-Scots, he said whilst he would like to encourage people to learn English, “the practicalities are such that, yes, there is much greater need for it, because I don’t regard Ulster-Scots as a language to start with”.
According to the 2011 Census, just over 1% of residents aged over three in Northern Ireland had Polish as their main language. Meanwhile, the proportion who can speak, read, write and understand Irish was 3.74%, and 0.94% for Ulster-Scots.