Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 19:03 UK

Doubt over Ulster-Scots Academy

By Conor Spackman
BBC News

Mural celebrating Ulster-Scots heritage
15m for the academy was pledged after the Weston Park negotiations
A landmark project to promote the Ulster-Scots language has reached a major impasse, the BBC can reveal.

In 2003, the government pledged 15m for an Ulster-Scots Academy after the Weston Park negotiations.

The cash was seen as reciprocal funding for Ulster-Scots after the same amount was pledged for a new Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

It was intended that the academy would bring together Ulster-Scots scholars to promote the teaching of the language to academic standards.

In June 2005, the minister responsible, David Hanson, set up an implementation group which he said would be responsible for making the academy a reality by January 2007.

But the BBC understands that, 18 months on from that target date, the academy is still some way from being established.

Three weeks ago, the most senior civil servant in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), Paul Sweeney, wrote a letter to the chairman of the implementation group, Dr Philip Robinson.

In the letter, seen by the BBC, Mr Sweeney said he "shares the frustration" of Dr Robinson about the slow progress towards a fully functioning academy.

It is understood that progress was stymied both by scholarly arguments and the fallout from a damming interim report on the group carried out by a civil servant last summer.

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell is the now minister for culture, arts and leisure

It begins with a quote from the gospel of Luke about a man attempting to build a tower and being mocked for being unable to do so.

In his response, which the BBC has also seen, Dr Robinson wrote that, as a committed Christian, he finds the use of scripture in the context "deeply offensive".

He goes on to address other criticisms of the implementation group by the civil servant.

These included the renting of a building in Newtownards which was in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act and which the civil servant's report claimed was damp, making it unsuitable for the storage of old documents.

Dr Robinson delivered a withering response to the report: "By no stretch of the imagination could this document be described as other than misinformed, inaccurate, and gratutously offensive."

He went on to describe it as "factually and procedurally wrong".

One source told BBC News that the group had found it difficult to agree on the standardisation of Ulster-Scots spelling, a key factor for Ulster-Scots if it is to progress academically.

Consultants

In light of the slow progress being made, DCAL officials are said to be keen to accelerate the process by bringing in external consultants to prepare a new business plan.

This would replace an existing plan put together by the implementation group.

DCAL have also shut down the secretariat set up to aid the work of the group.

The office in Newtownards was vacated on 27 June and the civil servant appointed as secretary left his post on the same day.

In all, the Implementation Group has spent just under 1m over the past three years.

Last year, a significant amount of its funding was clawed back by DCAL because it had not been spent.

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams recently announced more funding for the Irish language

Three weeks ago, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams announced that the government had agreed to another 6m of funding for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

An Assembly insider told the BBC that it would be difficult for Ulster-Scots enthusiasts to argue for matched funding again.

"How can they want more money when they haven't been able to spend the money they have?" he said.

In a statement, DCAL said it did not comment on personnel issues. But it said it had engaged a team of consultants to refresh the original business case for the project.

A spokesperson added: "The refreshed business case will provide a more strategic focus around the proposals from the USAIG and will enable the department to provide options and recommendations to the minister on the way ahead on the proposal for an Ulster-Scots Academy.

"It is hoped that this will be undertaken in the autumn."

The BBC approached Dr Philip Robinson for an interview, but he declined.



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