Council of Europe warns UK that it must do more to meet its obligations to protect its regional and stateless languages
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Publié le 25/03/07 17:03 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

Council of Europe warns UK over half hearted implementation of the ECRML

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Friday, 23 March 2007

The Council of Europe has warned the UK Government that it must do more to meet its obligations to protect its regional and stateless languages. The call comes as part of the Council of Europe’s monitoring of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML), which came into force in the UK in July 2001. It commits the Government to safeguard and promote Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Scots, Ulster-Scots, Cornish and Manx Gaelic.

The Committee of Ministers recommendations based on the Report drawn up by the committee of experts (COMEX), are to, "as a matter of priority":

develop and implement a Scottish Gaelic education policy;

develop a comprehensive Irish language policy, including measures to meet the increasing demand for Irish medium education;

develop further Welsh medium education, in particular, to take steps to improve linguistic continuity in the transition from primary to secondary level in Welsh speaking areas;

give more support for the printed media in Irish and Scottish Gaelic;

improve services in Welsh in health and social care facilities;

make efforts to improve the position of Scots and Ulster Scots.

The report is based on the monitoring of the UK’s minoritised languages situation between December 2005 and February last year. It says the main responsibility for the practical implementation of the Charters goals of recognising and respecting the value of minoritised languages rests with devolved authorities, where applicable. But central government has the final responsibility to see the Charter is applied.

The monitoring exercise had revealed wide differences in the treatment of minoritised languages around the state, it said. In Northern Ireland, currently facing controversy because of delays in passing an Irish Language Act, representatives of Irish speakers had reported problems promoting Irish because of demands for equal treatment for Ulster Scots. Because parity for Ulster Scots was not practically possible, it resulted in no action being taken at all.

Meanwhile, progress was noted for Ulster Scots with the forthcoming establishment of an Ulster Scots Academy.

In Scotland, the arrival of the Gaelic Language Act and the creation of the Gaelic Language Board should act to strengthen and improve the status of Scots Gaelic, said the report.

However, it was critical over the treatment of Scots, "the lack of a clearly defined language status for Scots seems to lead to difficulties creating any national or over-arching language policy or developing a comprehensive language plan".

In Wales, latest plans for promoting Welsh had produced mixed reactions, the report found. The intention was to set up an independent advisory office "Dyfarnydd" - for the Welsh language, but its role had not been defined. And the planned merger of the Welsh Language Board and the Welsh Assembly Government had been postponed until after this years elections in May. On the planned merger, the report comments: "There was a fear that this might lead to a politicisation of the language, and that there would be no body that independently monitors the development of the Welsh language".

Manx speakers have increased from 165 in a 1961 census to 1,689 in 2001, adds the report. The language was first taught in schools in 1992, and the Isle of Man Government plan includes a target of increasing the teaching of Manx in schools.

In Cornwall, the report notes the creation of the Cornish Language Strategy to develop Cornish but that "it has been pointed out to the committee experts that here is an urgent need for a survey on the number of fluent speakers and the number of learners of Cornish".

Referring to the ECRML (Art7.1.b, 'respect for the geographical area’) the Comex report warned that ‘local communities’ borders must be respected, following criticism from language NGOs that any changes in Cornwall’s administrative boundaries or the incremental inclusion into an artficial south west zone may effect language development.

The report says better data would help the prospects for most minoritised languages: "For some of these languages there are no reliable data as to the number of speakers and their degree of language competence and it would be useful for further language planning to include this issue in future censuses."

The report observes: "What seems to be symptomatic and recurrent (for minoritised languages in the UK) is a lack of standardisation or codification needed for the use of the language in many aspects of public life, often a low prestige attached to the language, and finally a lack of an over-arching language strategy and plan.

"This leads (lesser used language speakers) to perceive the current policies as being merely half-hearted".

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers backed the findings in a statement last week and said the UK authorities should act on them "as a matter of priority".

The Council of Europe are in the UK again this week to examine the government’s implementation of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. (Davyth Hicks, Eurolang 2007)

Committee of Ministers' recommendation

see COMEX Report

Document PDF UK_2nd_report.pdf . Source :

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