Agriculture officials flagged up language obligations to DUP minister
A FORMER DUP minister was told by officials of her department’s obligation to recognise Irish and Ulster-Scots months after she claimed it had adopted “single language policy”.
Details emerged after the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) was forced to provide documents, including a copy of its draft language policy, to the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).
The documents reveal that officials reminded Michelle McIlveen of her department’s obligations to minority languages under its own equality scheme and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.
Ms McIlveen controversially ordered the name of a fisheries protection vessel to be changed from the Irish Banríon Uladh to its English language version Queen of Ulster in 2016.
The boat was originally named by then Sinn Féin agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew after it was bought in 2010.
Asked to explain the move, Ms McIlveen said that “DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy.”
The department had previously refused to provide a copy of the draft language policy document to CAJ until ordered to hand it over by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) earlier this year.
DAERA has since apologised to the ICO, saying that "it was unable to state with certainty when the information was created, but confirmed that it was first saved to its electronic records management system in November 2016”.
The draft policy states that “for the administration of its functions the principal language of (DAERA) is English” but also makes provision for the use of Irish and Ulster-Scots.
However, the draft policy was not implemented by Ms McIlveen before the collapse of the assembly in January 2017.
CAJ deputy director Daniel Holder said: "In this submission officials correctly and professionally set out to the minister legal and broader advice that shows why you can't have a 'single language policy', not least because of duties on the department through its equality scheme and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
"We are owed an explanation from the minister as to why she then did not sign off on a policy that met basic legal minimum requirements before leaving office."
A spokesman for DAERA said: "We will not be commenting further on this matter."