Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 15:23 UK

Executive warned on report delay

Caroline Flint
Caroline Flint said the Executive delay was causing problems

The NI Executive was warned by the Foreign Office that a failure to agree on minority languages was creating international difficulties for the UK.

The Executive failed to submit details of how it is fulfilling a commitment to promote Irish and Ulster Scots under the terms of a European charter.

As a result the UK had to submit a late and incomplete report to the Council of Europe, the only nation to do so.

This caused annoyance at the Foreign Office and other devolved governments.

The UK government is required to report to the Council of Europe every three years on its progress in protecting minority languages, such as Ulster Scots, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Welsh.

The implementation of the policy is left to the devolved regions.

But at Stormont, the Executive could not agree on a submission prepared by a cross-departmental group of civil servants who work on implementing the treaty.

As a result the UK's report was delayed by almost a year and was incomplete.

The incomplete version was submitted only after the UK came under pressure from the Council of Europe.

Censured

The BBC has seen a letter from April this year in which the then Europe minister Caroline Flint wrote to Stormont's then Culture Minister Gregory Campbell.

She stated she was "disappointed" that his department was still unable to provide its input.

She went on to state that following a formal request from the Council of Europe she could no longer delay.

She wrote: "I cannot ignore this request as there is now a real risk of the UK being censured for not meeting its international obligations."

Irish language graffiti
Language politics are divisive in the Executive

In his reply Mr Campbell said he was not able to indicate when the Executive might be able to reach agreement on the matter.

The BBC has also seen an email sent by a civil servant in the Foreign Office to a Stormont civil servant in May this year.

The Foreign Office official points out that the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales had provided their input before the end of summer 2008.

The message continues: "The other devolved administrations have been pressing the Foreign Office to submit the report and were less than pleased that it was being held up."

The Executive has still not agreed on its submission.

Limited information was provided by the Northern Ireland Office but throughout the UK report there are references to "a supplementary report" which will be provided by the devolved administration in Northern Ireland.

In the past Gregory Campbell has blamed the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for holding up the report.

Under the Freedom of Information Act the BBC requested correspondence between Mr McGuinness and the Department of Culture but the request was denied on the grounds that the disclosure could have a detrimental impact on the process of finalising the report.



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