The Ulster-Scots Agency or Boord o Ulstèr-Scotch was set up as part of the negotiations surrounding the Irish Peace Process of the late 1990s. Its purpose was to assuage the “ethno-nationalist” demands of the most militantly separatist political leaders of the British Unionist minority in the north-east of Ireland by giving them an official body to promote the dialect of English known as Irish-Scots which they claimed as their own. Representing a hybrid mix of Scots-English, Hiberno-English and Anglicised Irish this regional patois was supposedly spoken by several thousand people at the time of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 (though in fact when the EU sent an investigative team of academics to chart the language they were unable to find a single native speaker). The Agency’s purpose was to serve, protect and promote the language with joint funding from the nation-states of Ireland and Britain.
So what has it done over the last decade and more? Well taking just one small part of the north-east of Ireland, North Down, in just one period, 2008-2013, one can list the majority of the recipients of grants from Irish and British taxpayers:
- the Ballylone Concert Flute Band
- the Ballyrobert Drumming Club
- the Cleland Memorial Pipe Band
- the Corbet Accordion Band
- the Holywood True Blues Flute Band
- the Newtownards Melody Flute Band
- the North Down Defenders Musical Development
As you may have noticed none of these organisations are actually language teaching or promotion groups. Some of them are in fact what is colloquially known as “Kick the Pope” bands. That is military-style marching bands reflecting militant British and fundamentalist Protestant culture in Ireland, a few of which have links to various British terror factions (for instance the North Down Defenders Flute Band marches in support of financial aid for former British terrorist prisoners – a worthwhile endeavour for Irish tax-payers to underwrite I’m sure).
One is left to ask what minority language community is it exactly that the Ulster-Scots Agency supposedly serves? We can see that it supports exclusively Protestant British Unionist culture across the north-east of Ireland (and most definitely not Protestant Irish Nationalist culture). But it is a culture expressed entirely through the medium of standard British English. Even the official website of the Agency is solely in the English language as are the vast majority of its publications. A causal perusal of the website promoting the “Ullans” tongue shows an organisation that spends the majority of its budget funding music or dance groups with zero language input.
One is left to conclude that the purpose of the Ulster-Scots Agency is not to serve an already existing dialectal community in the north-east of the country, beyond mere tokenism. Instead it has two other functions. Firstly it promotes the creation of an English-medium culture for a separatist British ethno-national minority on the island of Ireland funded in part by the tax-payers of the island-nation of Ireland. Secondly it serves as the cutting edge of Unionism’s colonial “culture war” with Irish Nationalism by blocking any progress whatsoever in the granting of legislative equality to Irish-speaking communities and citizens in the North of Ireland.
So where does that leave those genuine speakers of the Irish-Scots dialect? Nationalist and Unionist, Catholic and Protestant? Exactly were they where two decades ago. Used, abused and abandoned.