Russell riled by CRE snub to Gaelic

24th January 2003 at 00:00
OPPOSITION to the private member's Bill that attempts to give Gaelic "secure status" in law has come from an unexpected quarter, the Commission for Racial Equality in Scotland.

This is despite the fact that the commission has an accord with the Welsh Language Board whose statutory duty is to establish equality between Welsh and English in the public life of the principality, the same basis of the Bill being promoted by Michael Russell, the SNP's education spokesperson.

Mike Conboy, acting head of the CRE in Scotland, states in a paper to the parliamentary education committee that "it is potentially damaging to race relations to promote one language and its associated culture above others to the degree that this Bill proposes".

Mr Russell now intends to write to the CRE asking it to withdraw its evidence to the committee. "Its paper is astonishing and is itself potentially racist," he told The TES Scotland. "The contrast with the compact which the commission has with the Welsh Language Board is so remarkable that it is difficult to believe both positions come from the one organisation."

The CRE accord with the Welsh board states: "We respect each other's aims and responsibilities, and recognise they are compatible." The organisations say they will act to prevent unlawful discriminatory practices "which work against racial and linguistic harmony".

Mr Conboy argues, however, that "while the CRE supports the promotion of minority languages and culture, we are concerned that establishing a basis of equality between the English and Gaelic languages is a far-reaching objective which could send out an unhelpful message in terms of race relations".

The Scottish Parliament's priority should be to help those minorities which feel excluded from public life and that is not the case with Gaels since few are unable to communicate effectively in English, Mr Conboy states.

His view that existing organisations and legislation are sufficient to promote the interests of Gaelic is supported in evidence to the committee from the Scottish Executive which also opposes legal status.

Despite advice to the contrary in the recent report from the ministerial advisory group on Gaelic, the Executive suggests that existing support is sufficient because there is now a much improved and "altered landscape" for the language. Its paper states: "Gaelic is now available at all levels of education and with improved resources and materials. In addition, Gaelic is now included in the framework of national priorities for education and the Executive seeks to monitor and measure the extent to which education authorities respond to parental demand."

The Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000 requires authorities to set out their plans for Gaelic-medium education. These initiatives amount to virtual "official recognition" for Gaelic, the Executive claims. Any complaints about unfair or unjust treatment can be dealt with under existing policies and regulations, it states.

A submission to the Parliament from Highlands and Islands Enterprise warns against "the risk of alienating people from different cultural traditions" but suggests that some public bodies should be placed under a "bare minimum of duty" towards the language.

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