Ulster Scots Agency defends £140m bid for public funding

Ian Crozier in around early 2012
Ian Crozier in around early 2012

The Ulster Scots Agency has rejected a claim by a member of its board that the board did not approve its request for £140 million to be spent on language and cultural activities.

On Tuesday the News Letter revealed that the bid had been made as part of the Stormont talks, with a request for money for everything from Highland dancing to television programmes and public art.

The document obtained by this newspaper – which was written by the agency’s chief executive, DUP member Ian Crozier – prompted DUP founding member Wallace Thompson to speak out, saying the “shocking” proposal to give what he described as an “astronomical” sum to Ulster Scots was “daft” and “madness”.

Former Ukip MLA David McNarry, who is a member of the agency’s board, said that the board had not endorsed the paper when the proposal was brought before it.

However, in a statement to the News Letter the agency said that this was wrong.

In a statement, sent in by Mr Crozier on behalf of the agency, said: “The Ulster-Scots Agency would like to point out that the paper obtained by the News Letter was a discussion paper prepared by the agency at the request of its sponsor department to help inform political discussions.

“The paper sets out a series of facts in terms of the rights of Ulster Scots as a cultural minority and the relative resourcing position of Ulster-Scots in comparison with the other indigenous minority culture here.

“It then sets out a series of potential interventions, along with indicative costs, which the agency believes could be undertaken over a 20 year period to promote and develop Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture.

“This is consistent not only with the rights of the Ulster-Scots community, but also the statutory remit of the agency.

“The paper was discussed by the Board of the Agency at its meeting on April 20, 2017, when there was a full attendance. Board members supported the contents of the paper, no member raised any objection and the paper was duly noted.”

However, Ulster Scots Agency board member David McNarry said that the organisation’s chief executive “should stop digging a hole for himself” in defending the request for £140 million.

Disputing the agency’s statement to the News Letter, Mr McNarry said that he had “no wish to drag the board into a public dispute” but felt he had to correct what had been said.

Mr McNarry said that the paper requesting the £140 million had only come to the board after it had been submitted to the talks, meaning that the board had not approved what had already been done.

And he insisted that he had “indicated very clearly that I would not endorse this paper”, adding: “It was clear at the meeting that the paper was not to be endorsed and I was satisfied with that”.

Mr McNarry said that he had suggested the board should meet the DUP leadership about the issue but “surprisingly the board did not see any necessity to do this”.