The fourth compliance report of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was published earlier this week. It provides welcome support (and, no doubt relief!) to many in Cornwall who have become increasingly exasperated at the government’s seemingly endless refusal to recognise that by signing Cornwall up to the Framework Convention, they actually have to back this up with actions to recognise the status that Cornwall is afforded by the Council for Europe.
Whilst the full report, which runs to some fifty pages, can be read here: Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities – Fourth Opinion on the United Kingdom the main observations of the body, and recommendations for the government which impact on Cornwall will be highlighted in the paragraphs below.
The report states that the committee were “disconcerted to learn that the UK government decided in April 2016 to cut all funding for the Cornish language with immediate effect”. The Committee urge that the government “reconsider the decision to cut all funding for the Cornish language in view of the disproportionate impact such a measure will have on the delicate process of revitalising a minority language when access to other public financial resources is limited.” The report emphasises that: “as a signatory of the Framework Convention, the United Kingdom has undertaken to promote under Article 5 the condition necessary for persons belonging to national and ethnic minorities to, inter alia, preserve the essential elements of their identity, including language.” Consideration is urged for there to be a Cornish Language Act passed by Parliament.
There is also mention of the imposition of a Devonwall constituency. Whilst the committee does not urge the government to abandon the plan, they do ask that “any administrative and constituency border reform follows an inclusive process, which takes into account the presence of persons belonging to a national minority in the territory, their meaningful participation and respect for their rights.” The danger here though is the government will no doubt turn round and say that their public hearings into the plan that took place at Lys Kernow cover this particular recommendation.
There is also clear support offered for something that Cornish people have been demanding for decades: “The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to take the necessary measures to include the possibility to self-identify as Cornish, through a ‘tick box’ in the next census, and to facilitate the expression of self-identification of any other group because data collection is relevant to the application of minority rights.”
It is not just the government who suffer a rebuke from the Advisory Committee – English Heritage also come into their sights for how Cornish culture and heritage is presented due to fears that “Cornish history is distorted”.
The committee then turn their attention to the BBC and ITV – “The Committee regrets the minimal profile of Cornish in mainstream media…The authorities should take resolute action to ensure that the revision of the BBC Charter improves access to the media for persons belonging to national and ethnic minorities, increases funding, ensures a variety of programmes in minority languages…and introduces BBC support for the Cornish language.“
In response to the report, Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole said: “The UK Government’s recognition of the Cornish through the Framework Convention was a landmark decision, but the Opinion demonstrates that the Cornish are not being treated in the same manner as the other national minorities within the UK such as the Scots and the Welsh.
“The Opinion shows a great deal of empathy and understanding for the situation in Cornwall, for which we are grateful. But we are bewildered at the response from the UK Government, which fails to address the recommendations produced by the Advisory Group.
“We would challenge Cornwall’s MPs and the UK Government to show due respect to Cornish culture and identity by supporting all the recommendations contained within the Opinion, wholeheartedly and without reservation.”
The work of groups such as Kernow Matters To Us continue to flag up to the Council of Europe the shortcomings of the UK government. The Cornish people will be heartened that the Advisory Committee have shown such strong support for their battles. The ball is now firmly back in the government’s court.