We're on track to save Gaelic, maintains under fire Peacock

26th March 2004 at 00:00
A Council of Europe critique of Scottish Executive plans for reviving Gaelic was out of date by the time it was published this week, ministers said.

They say they have already moved well ahead on plans for reviving and preserving the language, citing the forthcoming Bill on Gaelic and the setting up of the national board in Inverness chaired by Duncan Ferguson, headteacher of Plockton High.

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, who is taking a personal interest in Gaelic as a Highland MSP, met with representatives of the Gaelic lobby this week to firm up the place of education in the forthcoming Gaelic Language Bill. But he was presented with strong condemnation from a team of researchers from Strasbourg studying the future of regional and minority languages.

The European study, published on Wednesday, urges the Executive, "as a matter of priority", to make primary and secondary education in Gaelic "generally available in the areas where the language is used".

This may be a reference to the previous private member's Bill on Gaelic initiated by Michael Russell, the former SNP education spokesman. Ministers in the last parliament ruled out the proposal because of the difficulties in selecting specific areas where Gaelic is strong. They have now opted for a more nationwide policy in the imminent Gaelic Bill.

But campaigners say the draft Bill, which spells out how to secure legal status for the language, pays little attention to the place of education.

They are now lobbying Mr Peacock before he leads on the Bill in the summer.

Local authorities, especially in the central belt but also in non-traditional Gaelic areas, are wary of the consequences of legal rights for Gaelic-medium education. They do not want to create a demand they cannot meet.

Mr Peacock's office points out that since the Strasbourg researchers were in Scotland, Bord na Gaidhlig has been set up and is channelling funding to priority areas of language development.

Ministers have published their draft Bill on Gaelic and are taking soundings on it. They are also committed to improve Gaelic-medium education through the Schools Act 2000. A national language strategy is on the cards for later this year.

In contrast, parents and Gaelic campaigners have consistently complained about lack of progress at local authority level and accused ministers of being in breach of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

Some practitioners and commentators fear that Gaelic-medium strategies are unlikely to succeed because of the acute shortage of qualified teachers.

They are pressing for Gaelic to become a second language.

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