Three years ago this September the late Clive Dutton drafted his Big Gaeltacht Quarter action plan 2013 – 2033.
Dutton, a renowned urban regeneration specialist, set out a vision for the next 20 years in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) quarter. The primary objective of the plan was to promote equality and tackle social exclusion.
It aimed to develop the area as a model of urban regeneration which can be replicated across the north and internationally – using a dynamic minority language community as a catalyst to improve the lives of those most in need.
The Gaeltacht vision is to ‘develop and sustain a vibrant and compelling quarter of the city where the unique selling point and economic potential of the Irish language and culture are exploited, developed and maximised so as to realise profit and benefit for the people of the area, the city and the region’.
The Gaeltacht community is one of the most expansive, open and welcoming communities in the city and it is clear that the Irish-speaking community act very much from their own sense of the future and with a confidence born of thriving in spite of, and not because of, any narrow political considerations.
‘The Gaeltacht Quarter is using a dynamic minority language
community as a catalyst to improve the lives of those most in need’
Things are beginning to thaw a little in the public discourse but there is still a long way to go until our political masters across the board wake up, smell the coffee and realise the huge boon which the Gaeltacht offers to the city and the region.
Clive Dutton noted in 2013 that the Gaeltacht is an ‘astonishing paradox – on the one hand it contains two out of three of the most disadvantaged wards in the north of Ireland, and yet on the other it is also the site of an enormous outpouring of cultural innovation’.
He described the Gaeltacht as one of Belfast’s most exciting brands.
My organisation Forbairt Feirste is part of the designated joint secretariat for the Gaeltacht Quarter programme with the department for culture, art and leisure [now transferred to three departments].
A range of interventions have been taken forward in support of the plan including a series of capital projects, the largest of which attracted investment of over £14m, with additional projects worth a further £7.1m.
Other associated developments already under construction or due for commencement this year have included an extension on the arts and cultural centre – Cultúrlann MacAdam Ó Fiaich – at the heart of the quarter, worth £500,000; Whiterock community Irish language hub building, worth £400,000; and the Cumann Chluain Ard refurbishment project, worth £750,000.
Dutton would be extremely proud that the total capital investment two short years after his visionary plan has now reached over £26m.
Tús maith leath na hoibre (a good start is half the work) as we say in Gaelic and with a recent announcement by minister of culture for the establishment of an Irish Language Academy all we can say is things can only get better.
Jake Macsiacais is director of Forbairt Feirste