Locally based Irish language community groups have reacted with anger and dismay at the latest proposed funding cuts to an Scéim Phobail Gaeilge (Irish language in the community scheme) by Foras na Gaeilge. At a meeting with Foras na Gaeilge (18/11/15), which was attended by representatives of the 11 groups currently funded in the north, the details of the future loss of services and provision were presented in the details of the new 2016-20 scheme.
Sue Pentel, Director of Ionad Uibh Eachach in West Belfast said:
“These current proposals are completely unworkable and will dramatically decrease and undermine the ability of locally based Irish language groups, including our own, to provide key services to our ever expanding community. We are being asked to cut the hours of our development workers to 4 days per week while completely decimating their community project costs, which include the provision of key services such as after youth provision, after-schools clubs, adult Irish language classes, summer festivals etc. The new scheme also proposes that development workers do more work over a larger geographical area involving the building of networks and partnerships with a drastically reduced budget. To add insult to injury, groups will be disqualified from all Foras small grant schemes but asked to facilitate groups from the English medium sector to make applications on behalf of the Irish language community. We are totally dismayed at the irrational and farcical nature of what is being offered.
‘In addition, many organisations will find their development officers out in the street under these current proposals which proposes a paltry sum for office and rental costs which will have catastrophic consequences for groups who are trying to maintain their own premises. Last year, Foras na Gaeilge proposed to derail the ‘Language in the community scheme’ entirely and aim towards an impracticable geographical spread that would have punished groups for being effective in areas of high demand and successful Irish language infrastructure. Groups across the country rallied and took an active part in last November’s consultation process which drew extensive submissions calling for existing provision and resources to be strengthened and supported. Here we are, one year later in the same precarious position. Firstly, letters were sent out announcing up to 31% cuts in our group funding from now until June 2016 which has completely eradicated all community programme costs and then the flawed and unworkable new scheme was announced from 2016-20.’
According to Gearóid Ó Machail from CAIRDE TEO in Armagh City, ‘Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the Irish language community revival will recognise that these disastrous funding proposals will severely jeopardise essential community services and infrastructure and challenge the very survival of many of our locally based groups. These proposals indicate a total disregard for language planning and the strategic growth of the sector. They aren’t based on any form of research or service provision audit and represent a highly dangerous and risky approach which threatens the long –term sustainability of our groups and the projects we deliver at grassroots level on a daily and weekly basis. This could not only squander a viable community infrastructure, and years of hard work on the ground but also indicates a conscious lack of regard for the long-term investment that has been made in our locally based groups.
‘In times of funding cuts and reduced government budgets, basic logic would dictate the need to consolidate progress rather than a further thinning out of limited Irish language resources. We understand that the Foras budget is being consistently reduced, and we only call for a fair-minded approach that prioritises the community based revival and those groups, programmes and activities that make a demonstrable difference on the ground; empower children and youth people, parents and Irish medium school communities and bring our language to life. All the groups are now under huge pressure to submit our funding applications for the 2016-2020 scheme for December 17, despite the unworkable nature of the Foras proposals. We will be lobbying politicians and those with influence in the weeks ahead to allocate a common-sense budget for this scheme that preserves our community-based services and Irish language infrastructure.
Conradh na Gaeilge spokesperson, Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, who advocate on behalf of community based language groups stated that, ‘The focus of Foras na Gaeilge and DCAL should to be on sourcing the increased investment necessary to sustain the existing network of language officers and to support developing areas with demonstrable demand. These groups are delivering high quality provision and, essentially, implementing the core objectives of Foras in terms of the Irish language, on the ground. This scheme has been an undoubted success and has led to a transformation in the areas they are located, in terms of the Irish language. These proposed cuts and the new scheme will place all of that in jeopardy.’