Gorsedh Kernow Conference 2015 – The Protection of National Minorities: A Review

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The 2015 Gorsedh Kernow Conference took place in the Chamber of St. Austell Town Council on Friday 4th September. Entitled: The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities – Facts and opportunities, it was a day long session exploring the benefits and challenges for Cornwall almost 18 months on after it was designated with National Minority Status at long last.

This was an event that anyone with even the vaguest interest in Cornish Identity wanted to attend, and such was the demand that extra seating had to be found for those who booked their ticket late. Conference was opened by the outgoing Grand Bard Maureen Fuller, who presented an excellent duel language speech in both Kernewek and English.

The first session was led by Ian Saltern, who put in a lot of work to Cornwall’s application document. He stated the importance of the fact that, contrary to press reports, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has nothing to do with the EU – it comes from the Council of Europe (a body with 47 members, 28 of which are in the EU). He outlined the fact that the framework entered into force on 1st February 1998 and it allows National Minorities to “express, preserve and develop their culture and identity.” Interestingly, Saltern revealed that there is no agreed definition among member states of what a National Minority is. Tellingly, France has not signed up, hence a lack of recognition or protection for our Breton cousins, or those in Alsace.

With Cornwall now a recognised member, Saltern emphasised the fact that Great Britain, as a member of the Council for Europe is “beholden to actively take action in relation to their minority groups.” One particularly interesting part of the Framework convention appears in Article 12/14 where it clearly states: “If there is sufficient demand, to ensure within their education systems, adequate opportunities for being taught the Minority language.” Is this a chance for Kernewek to get back on the school curriculum in Cornwall? One can only hope.

Matt Barton, the Assistant Head of Customers and Communities for Cornwall Council then spoke on what the Council has done, or soon will be doing in terms of the framework convention. Barton believed that “It acts as leverage as a force for positive change, and can be used as a tool of significant influence which will also create fresh impetus, focus and awareness.” He stated that Cornwall Council is now reviewing its policy towards Kernewek, and outlined the fact that Devon and Cornwall Police now have powers to “record details and take action of hate incidents/hate crimes against people because of their Cornish identity.” Whilst these words were welcome, it did feel rather like they were merely going through the motions and not using the Minority Status as a springboard to push for greater powers and recognition.

However, things became a bit more positive with the keynote address from John Pollard, the leader of Cornwall Council. He spoke initially about the devolution plan that has been handed to Cornwall from Westminster, and crucially added: “A Senedh Kernow is the second step. It will happen.” Pollard also revealed that he has told Westminster that Cornwall does not want an elected Mayor, but true devolved powers. He also stated that the Conservative government has recently refused Cornwall Council powers for funding affordable housing for Cornish people, which is nothing short of an outrage.

On the whole, as you would expect, there was a true sense that the audience were fiercely demanding more powers for Cornwall, whilst welcoming what has already come. There was also a feeling, to me that a number, myself included, are of the opinion that, since the award of Minority Status in April 2014, very little else has happened. The momentum needs to continue and gather pace.

I strongly believe that Cornish primary schools need to be given help to develop their curriculums along the lines of Cornish Culture – and I am more than up for playing a major role in doing this. If we can ensure the very young get a full grasp of their ‘native land’ and why it is so special and different from the land across The Tamar, then we’re off to a good start!

Kernow bys vyken!

NB – if you haven’t read the Council of Europe Framework document for the Protection of National Minorities, I urge you to do so, it is vital for Cornwall – go to https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=09000016800c10cf

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