A recent letter to the Editor from Réamonn Ó Ciaráin ("Foras cuts for 90-year-old magazine") complains of the review of funding of An tUltach, but does not refer to the wider context within which this decision was taken.
Foras na Gaeilge has been reviewing the way it spends the public money it receives from Government North and South to promote the language. This type of review is a normal and healthy part of the funding process whereby we are obliged to justify what we’re doing, ask who we’re doing it for, try to imagine if there might be a better way to do it, and even ask if what we’re doing still has relevance and worth and whether there are alternatives worth exploring.
Much of the organisational structure which supports the Irish language has derived from the past and has simply been added to in piecemeal fashion. Organisations were added in response to changes in the Irish language and the wider community – the increased demand for Irish-medium education is one example of such positive change. None were refocused, amalgamated or wound down.
It is within this wider perspective that the grants paid annually to some 19 core-funded Irish-language organisations and a number of publications – some of them associated with the core-funded organisations – have been re-examined. Since 2008, Foras na Gaeilge has been in dialogue with the core-funded sector about funding and, in 2009, it received a direction from the North/South Ministerial Council to restructure. Since then, Foras na Gaeilge has commissioned research, engaged in sectoral and public consultation, including meetings with the 19 organisations – individually, grouped by work area and as a sector.
Last year expressions of interest were sought by public advertisement from those with the capacity to lead the work in the six strategic areas highlighted by Foras na Gaeilge and six lead organisations were chosen in January.
The resources committed to these areas of work as well as a community radio scheme and provision of educational materials for the Irish-medium sector in the North are considerable, some €6 million yearly. This new core-funding approach approved by the North/South Ministerial Council last July will come into effect on July 1st.
An tUltach is the organisational magazine of Comhaltas Uladh, the northern branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, which also has an organisational magazine Feasta. Both An tUltach and Feasta, like the organisations which run them, have received funding from Foras na Gaeilge since responsibility for them was transferred to Foras na Gaeilge on its establishment in 1999. Both magazines are published on paper, An tUltach quite erratically – as of May 1st the April edition had yet to appear. Both Feasta and an tUltach publish a small selection of material online. As it happens, Conradh na Gaeilge/Comh- altas Uladh applied successfully to become a lead organisation under the new arrangements. The desirability of Conradh/Comhaltas publishing two magazines in this way when both have small circulation is questionable as are the economics of printing physical copies when reading is migrating online.
Foras na Gaeilge’s vision is to build and maintain a vibrant reading public across the spectrum of genres, from news and popular magazine-type items to literature and extended review articles. It has just announced a new four-year contract for an online newspaper. At the end of May, we will be advertising a scheme for a lifestyle magazine-type online publication and in the autumn we will be advertising a literary/current affairs publication.
A level of genuine concern for An tUltach has been mobilised which is out of proportion with actual readership. Asking people if they support the status quo fails to address the real changes in the economics and technology of publishing, in reading habits and in the language itself.
In the case of publications, Foras na Gaeilge finds itself listening to what Henry Ford envisaged had he sought opinions on the future – a conservative consensus on the need for "faster horses". The way language is supported requires something much more radical to support the language communities throughout the island and to keep it relevant and vibrant.
Ferdie Mac an Fhailigh is príomhfheidhmeannach of Foras na Gaeilge