Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Penzance, culture and the Framework Convention

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian publicises the upcoming Cornish Language Festival in Penzance and gets a bit political. It will be as follows:

Cornish culture has certainly been in the headlines with the disagreements over the bid for Truro (Cornwall) to be European city of culture in 2023.

And in this week’s column, I would like to focus on the fantastic news that the charity Cornish Quest is hosting a Cornish Language Festival in Penzance between 25th February and St Piran’s Day.

Funded thanks to a successful application to the National Lottery’s “Celebrate” programme, the festival includes a host of lectures, workshops, discussion groups and walks. Performances will include the play “Trevithick” with the amazing team of Ed Rowe (Kernow King) and Mary Woodvine, plus a concert with acclaimed group The Changing Room, who often sing in Cornish.

At the heart of the festival will be a conference this coming Saturday, which will focus on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

This is a very timely intervention.

Readers of the Cornish Guardian will undoubtedly recall that, in April 2014, the UK Government bowed to years of pressure and recognised the Cornish people as a national minority through the Council of Europe – a separate body to the European Union and not affected by Brexit.

In March 2016, the relevant Advisory Committee from the Council of Europe visited the UK to assess how central government, local government and public bodies were adhering to the various articles of the treaty.

The keynote speaker at the Conference will be Dr Tove Malloy, from the Advisory Committee’s group of experts.

The Committee’s opinion report has been drafted and is currently with the UK Government, which is producing its own response to the report.

It is anticipated that this document will be formally published later this month, and many people are assuming that it will be critical of the UK Government’s approach to Cornwall and its national identity, culture and language.

It was shocking that, just after the Advisory Committee had visited Cornwall, funding for the Cornish language was cancelled. This was contrary to both the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the Framework Convention, to which the Government was a signatory.

And when challenged they said Cornwall Council could “allocate the necessary resources … if they wish.” Yet when the draft opinion report from the Council of Europe was sent to Westminster, it was only shared with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – not the unitary authority in Cornwall!

This lack of co-operation is concerning, though the Department of Communities and Local Government has promised to send extracts of the draft opinion report to Cornwall and recently announced a Cornish Culture Fund through which £100,000 would be spent over the next two years – even though that is much, much less than the language funding they previously stopped.

The UK Government seems more than a little confused about its approach to Cornish culture and I am very interested to hear Dr Tove Malloy has to say.

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