Some five years ago, Liam Logan, an esteemed member of our Ullans Academy, requested information from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure regarding further developments in the saga of the Ulster-Scots or Ullans Academy, which I had established in 1992. We had heard something of the setting up of an Ulster-Scots Academy Steering Group by Nelson McCausland, then Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Stormont Assembly, but we had been told nothing about its progress. This was not unexpected since Nelson had banished all reference to “Ullans” from the Ulster-Scots Agency by Ministerial directive, even though the term had been established by statute in the Belfast Agreement.
But then that is what Nelson does. And we love him for it, for that is what allows us to grow.
This was the reply.
Our Ref: RFI 118/10
Date: 10th December 2010
Dear Mr Logan
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000
In your correspondence dated 17 November 2010 regarding the Ulster-Scots Academy Steering Group, you requested the following information under the Freedom of Information Act:
1. Identity of the Chair of the Steering Group.
2. Membership of the Steering Group and dates of their appointment.
3. Date of the appointment of the Chair.
4. Criteria used for the selection of the Steering Group.
5. Selection process used to identify members of the Steering Group and if it was done by open competition, the dates and locations of advertisements.
6. What consultation was undertaken in relation to the creation and appointment of the Steering Group.
7. Were the CAL Committee consulted and if so when did it take place.
I am writing to confirm that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has now completed its search and can provide the following information.
1. The Chair of the Ulster-Scots Academy Project Steering Group is Wilfie Hamilton, a retired Civil Servant.
2. Letters of invite to the Steering Group were issued by the Department on 2nd April 2010 and its membership consists of:
• Keith Gamble
• Dr Ivan Herbison
• Lee Reynolds
• Dr William Roulston
• Anne Smyth
• Mark Thompson
3. The Chair of the group, Wilfie Hamilton was appointed on 2nd April 2010
4. The Steering Group falls outside the scope of “Public Appointments” regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments NI as the Ulster-Scots Academy is not yet a formal public body. Therefore appointments to the Steering Group can be direct Departmental appointments and do not need to go though normal board appointment processes and are not subject to the merit principle.
5. The Group is an interim arrangement which was set up to advise the Minister on an Ulster-Scots Academy approach and to progress the refreshed business case. The members of the Group were direct Departmental appointments as open competition was not necessary.
6. The Steering Group was selected by the Department on the basis of their knowledge of Ulster-Scots and their contacts and influence in the Ulster-Scots community. There was no public consultation carried out.
7. This is an informal group, established to update work previously completed on the Ulster-Scots Academy. Once a clear way forward has been identified the CAL Committee will be advised.
If you feel the information that we have provided does not fully meet your request, please write to:
Information Management Branch
Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
20 – 24 York Street
Telephone: 028 9025 4256
If you are dissatisfied after completion of the internal review you may appeal to the:
Who will undertake an independent review.
If you have any queries about this letter please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
Direct Line: 028 902515049
The author of The Blether Region blog, subtitled Desultory Notes on Language in Northern Ireland, made these comments on the news under the heading Nelson’s Cronies;
‘In response to a Freedom of Information request from North Down SDLP politician and Scots-speaker Liam Logan, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has revealed the membership of the Ulster-Scots Academy Steering Group appointed by the Minister, Nelson McCausland. The six members of the group, which is chaired by former civil servant Wilfie Hamilton, are:
Keith Gamble, a board member of the Ulster-Scots Community Network formerly chaired by the Minister;
Dr. Ivan Herbison, a retired lecturer at the School of English, QUB;
Lee Reynolds, a prominent DUP member;
Dr. William Roulston, a genealogist from the Ulster Historical Foundation and former board member of the Ulster-Scots Agency;
Anne Smyth, an Ulster-Scots activist and wife of Dr. Clifford Smyth, (guest speaker at the LOL 688 lodge dinner held at Rockmount Golf Club in November 2008, at which Anne played accordion), and mother of Alan Smyth, a member of the same lodge;
Mark Thompson, former Chairman of the Ulster-Scots Agency and a member of LOL 688. Regularly appears on BBC Television as a “consultant” on “Ulster-Scots”.
This means that, while the group boasts a single academic linguist, it includes two people with links to the Minister’s own Loyal Orange Lodge, the Cross of Saint Patrick. Furthermore, the fact that as much weight has been accorded to genealogy as to linguistics suggests that the Minister intends the academy to duplicate the functions of the Ulster-Scots Agency, while lacking its cross-border membership.
The choice of nominees also underlines the exclusion of the more moderate activists of the Ullans Academy in the ambit of Dr. Ian Adamson, as well as Scots and, unless the Blether Region is very much mistaken, Catholics. As the DCAL official answering the information request states, the appointments “do not need to go through the normal board appointment processes and are not subject to the merit principle”.
That’s us told, then.’
In fairness, however, the author of the blog neglected to say that Wilfie Hamilton had been an exemplary Civil Servant of probity and distinction, that Keith Gamble had been a prominent and effective member of the Ulster-Scots Academy Implementation Group, that Lee Reynolds was an important native speaker, and that the academic credentials of Ivan Herbison, Anne Smyth and William Rolston were impeccable. At the same time, that does not excuse the growth of essentially Seventeenth Century Nelsonism within the DUP and latterly the TUV, from its base in Ballysillan.