It remains difficult to see how the damage done to the Ulster Scots movement and the establishment of a statutory Academy can be rectified at this stage. But the blame must surely lie with those who were embued with narrow sectarian and political attitudes, often bizarrely so, particularly though British Israelite theories, who achieved high status in government and stifled any attempt to promote the true ideals of the movement.
As for the original Ulster Scots (Ullans) Academy which we established in 1992, it has continued to promote aspects of shared heritage, common identity and community relations between the nationalist and unionist sections of our community in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to Belfast. The group was established with the idea that bringing people together through their shared cultural heritage would raise awareness of those things that bind us together rather than divide us and thus foster a sense of mutual tolerance and respect, and this it has achieved.
The management committee of the Ullans Academy consists of a core of hardworking and dedicated volunteers who meet on a weekly basis and this committee is completely inter-community in its nature. Members of the management committee have significant experience working in the sphere of community development, education and researching the history, heritage and common identity of Northern Ireland. Indeed the make-up of the committee has a number of politicians, professional personnel and community development workers within its ranks.
We feel that having an experienced and proactive committee is key to our future success and ultimately the ability of the Ullans Academy to have an impact upon a greater awareness of the shared cultural heritage, both of Ulster Scots and Ulster Gaelic. Furthermore the promotion of awareness of those aspects in our heritage and culture which bind rather than divide our communities will lead to the development of stronger inter-community relationships in future years.
Thus the key objectives of the group are:To encourage and promote the shared Ulster Gaelic/Ulster Scots heritage and to raise awareness throughout Northern Ireland for our shared cultural heritage through delivery of high quality and engaging events and activities particularly our Saint Patrick’s Breakfast and the Feast of Columbanus. To go into the community and encourage inter-community activity and exploration of the diversity of community learning as an extension of education.
As Northern Ireland moves further into the post conflict period there are still a large number of people who are struggling to develop and are still experiencing minimal inter-community contact. These “hard to reach” areas, both nationalist and unionist, Protestant and Roman Catholic, are some of the key areas that the Ullans Academy has sought to engage and will continue to do over the next number of years to facilitate the ongoing development of a more prosperous and peaceful society in the local community across Northern Ireland.
Furthermore the educational and capacity building programmes which the Ullans Academy have delivered within and between some of the most affected areas as a result of the Troubles, will improve the confidence, self esteem and personal development of participants. Additionally the programmes help to build upon skills that are paramount to other aspects of life such as employment and education. We wish the MAGUS group well but doubt that it will eventually deliver us a statutory Ulster- Scots or Ullans Academy.
To be concluded