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Ulster-Scots: Cashing in the Cheque

An officer at the Ulster-Scots Agency suggests that the increasing profile of Ulster-Scots culture, heritage and vernacular since the Belfast Agreement is due to the fact that ‘the peace process is freeing people’. He argues that decreasing fear and insecurity eased pressures for Unionists to conform to a monolithic British identity and that the recognition of Ulster-Scots culture and vernacular promoted public interest.104

In fact, attention to Ulster-Scots is better interpreted as ‘a cultural “response” by Unionists to Nationalists’.105 At the insistence of Unionist parties, the 2006 St Andrews Agreement redressed previous emphasis on the Irish language, establishing that ‘the Government firmly believes in the need to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture’.106

Thus, since 2007, language policy in Northern Ireland has reflected the maxim that ‘if you do it for Irish you have to do it for Ulster-Scot’.107 However, advocates of the Ulster-Scots language recurrently call for more use of the vernacular in public life: recalling promises of parity of esteem, they complain that ‘over the years we have not been able to cash in that cheque’.108 The Ulster Scots Agency offers extracurricular modules on Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture for schools. Newspapers periodically announce the imminent introduction of Ulster-Scots language modules in schools. 1 09 Indeed, reflecting the political function of the

Ulster-Scots vernacular, a prominent Unionist politician suggests that the teaching of Ulster-Scots in schools could consolidate Unionist identities: by transmitting key values and identities to children, it could ‘engineer you to be... a Unionist’.110

In fact, there are very practical reasons why the ‘cheque’ of full parity of esteem for Ulster-Scots has not been cashed in. In particular, despite the wording of the St Andrews Agreement, a single, codified, ‘Ulster-Scots’ language does not exist. The Ulster Scots Agency sponsors an Ulster-Scots Language Forum to standardise the many dialects and vernaculars, but the forum has not produced tangible results yet.111 Ultimately, the lack of a standard Ulster-Scots language means that Ulster-Scots cannot be employed as a language of instruction.

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