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Craig Anderson reports
"Delegates questioned whether the minister and Mr Dewar were talking the same language"
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Friday, 8 September, 2000, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Minister denies Gaelic confusion
Gaelic congress
The minister attended the annual Gaelic congress
The minister for Gaelic has denied that confusion exists over plans to give the language official status.

Alasdair Morrison told the annual Gaelic congress in Nairn that secure status for the language was still an objective.

The policy was thrown into doubt earlier this week when First Minister Donald Dewar was quoted as saying that he did not believe secure status was the way forward for Gaelic.

Alasdair Morrison
Alasdair Morrison: "We share the same view"
Mr Dewar, who warned the move could prompt a backlash, was due to give a speech in Skye where he was expected to reiterate that view.

However, Mr Morrison insisted that the apparent confusion was merely about the timescale for giving the language official recognition.

He insisted that the government's election pledge of secure status for the language was still an objective.

But he argued that he and Mr Dewar both agreed that immediate legal recognition was not the panacea for saving Gaelic from a decline into extinction.

And he said the executive was continuing to put more money into education, broadcasting and Gaelic development.

Mr Morrison said: "Donald Dewar and I share the same view. Do we want secure status tomorrow? Does it provide an answerable case for the challenges we face?

'Doing our utmost'

"I say no, Donald Dewar says no, so there is absolutely no difference.

"What I have to say is we are working towards that. We are doing our utmost to secure that and we're doing that through a whole host of initiatives."

The confusion emerged as a new report was issued recommending the setting up of a Scottish government department for Gaelic speaking areas.

It also recommended a Gaelic Development Agency with an initial government funding of 10m and warned: "Gaelic is in a precarious, even critical condition and...without significant government support it will not survive beyond the mid-point of the 20th century."

A government task force was set up to take stock of the situation.

Its proposals were being seen by some as the last chance for Gaelic, amid fears that the next census will show that the number of speakers has declined by as much as 25%.

Mike Russell
Mike Russell: Accused Mr Dewar of a u-turn
A fall to fewer than 40,000 speakers could trigger the demise of Gaelic as a living language.

There has been criticism that, in spite of continued investment through the government's various Gaelic development agencies, little has been achieved.

Scottish National Party spokesman on Gaelic, Mike Russell, welcomed the recommendations in the report but accused Mr Dewar of performing a "u-turn" on the language's status.

He said: "I intend to proceed with my private members bill on secure status, which is now being drafted.

"I again urge the executive and in particular the minister for Gaelic to enter into meaningful discussion about the bill so that we can reach all party agreement on this vital measure."

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See also:

02 Mar 00 | Scotland
Gaelic lessons for parliament
05 Feb 99 | Education
Go-ahead for first all-Gaelic school
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