How government works… Pt 4987

5 04 2010

The SDLP’s Dominic Bradley has asked DCAL how much has been spent supporting the Irish language in each constituency.

Guess how much funding went into West Belfast in 2009?

(Hint: it’s enormous.)

That’s right… £1,036,758.

2009 was a recessionary year. West Belfast suffers the very worst unemployment in Northern Ireland and is among the worst across the whole of the UK. And while funding on the learning of Irish rose, bodies which create employment opportunities like the Employment Services Board were being wound up for lack of money.

Does this make sense? Yes, fund language sensibly – but how can it be right to spend over £1 million on services which directly benefit only a small proportion of the populace in an area crying out for massive economic regeneration?

To my mind, the opportunity cost of hosing down the Irish language with money is a properly funded Employment Services Board.  It makes no sense.

Similarly £5m over 5 years is going to an Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund (thanks to the Hillsborough Agreement). Is that essential? Where else might some of this money be better spent?

The ‘Ourselves Alone’ style of politics here means we can be told that government efficiencies are being implemented whilst lavish spending takes place. We need MLAs to look beyond the communal lines and make a selfless case on spending priorities. Otherwise, the humble taxpayer will endure an Age of Austerity in the economy but fund an Age of Plenty in the language sector.

PS. Lest anyone thinks this is about knocking the Irish language – think again. I support the funding and teaching of Irish. No doubt Irish language funding in West Belfast last year delivered good. In addition to creating and sustaining jobs, developing cultural capital feeds wellbeing and community cohesion. But it’s an inefficient way to promote regeneration and it affects only one section of the community.

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