Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crisis point for voluntary language sector!

Statement from recent past Presidents of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge on the New Funding Model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge

We, former Presidents of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, which represents 24 member organisations, wish to make the following statement at this critical time for the Irish Language Voluntary Sector.

The Facts
Locked up!
1. A vibrant community voluntary sector is an integral part of modern democratic politics and is recognised as such across the world. In emerging democracies, external assistance is often provided to ensure participation in the state by organised civil society, as was provided by the EU in the case of former communist states in Eastern Europe.

2. However, the Irish Language Voluntary Movement and associated organisations are intricately bound up with the gestation and birth of a free Ireland and the subsequent development of our sovereign state’s language policies. These policies were not alone pioneering in their time but undertaken at a time of straitened economic circumstances. Under its differing facets, the Irish Language Voluntary sector has served the State well in the implementation of the community aspects of those policies as well as in its role, unique to the voluntary sector, of representing the wishes of Irish-speaking citizens to the State. Its place in Irish society is much more than is conveyed by the epithet ‘third sector’. Indeed, when the new political agency or quango, Foras na Gaeilge, was set up with the intention of rebalancing the position of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, the funding functions of the responsible Minister in respect of 8 voluntary organisations, north and south, were transferred by the 1999 Act to the new agency.

3. As the proverb states, Is mór idir inné agus inniu! (a lot has changed between then and now). The State is now probably in as poor a position as when establishing policies for the Irish language at its inception. The voluntary State-aided sector understands this and is willing to make any appropriate responses required but only through an agreed participative process and only in those policy areas which will not ultimately prove detrimental to the future development of the language north and south. Social, cultural and intellectual activities require appropriate criteria in deciding what is ‘value for money’.

4. The response of the funding agency, Foras na Gaeilge, in unilaterally moving from core funding to open competitive short-term project funding is a crude instrument of change which will have long-term invidious consequences for the Irish language north and south.

5. The response of the North South Ministerial Council to this advice tendered by Foras na Gaeilge must, of necessity, have been founded on incomplete information since the Council received no representations from those most affected by the proposed change, whether as funded organisations or as beneficiaries of the work of those organisations.

6. If the 20-Year Strategy for Irish (Irish) and the new approaches in NI are to succeed, it is in and through the community and the experience of community organisations that that will happen.

7. Whether intended or unintended, the real consequences of the new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge is the demise of long-founded and hard-working voluntary organisations.

8. As past Presidents of a representative advocacy and service body founded in 1943, we feel there must be more solutions than that proposed by Foras na Gaeilge. The Irish language and its communities of speakers need, and deserve, both continuing service and new initiatives. We make the following suggestions, both funding and structural, towards a solution acceptable to all.

9. A budget will be required to undertake the occasional schemes proposed. Such a budget could be divided in a number of ways.

9.1 Method 1:
Ringfence a specific three year block budget for the work of the organisations in the community, and establish a Joint Committee consisting of representatives elected by the organisations and representatives elected by Foras na Gaeilge, to administer the Budget under strict conditions. Method 1 would allow Foras na Gaeilge staff the opportunity to work in other areas of Irish language promotion.

9.2 Method 2:
 In conjunction with the block budget above, a separate budget to be administered by Foras na Gaeilge on a competitive schemes basis, such as those already administered by the organisation.

10. In conclusion, it is pointless to initiate a public consultation process as proposed on such an important matter if it is not intended to investigate alternatives, including the status quo, and allow a democratic outcome.

Our structural proposal then is the establishment of an ad hoc representative group, having an independent chair, to discuss possibilities and reach an agreed solution, based on all the available facts, to put before the North South Ministerial Council.

Is sinne le meas,
Helen Ó Murchú (1995 – 1998) (2010 – 2011)
P.T. Mac Ruairí (2004 – 2010)
Caitríona Ní Cheallaigh (2001 – 2004)
Pádraig Mac Donncha (1998 – 2001)
Liam Mac Mathúna (1992 – 1995)
Pádraig Ó Ceithearnaigh (1987 – 1992)

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