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Nessie's Loch Ness Times

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Established December 3rd, 1996
         Saturday 1st February 2003
Issue No 317

Scottish Councils Refuse to Give Gaelic Status in Law

A bill aimed at giving Gaelic secure status in law failed to win the backing of local authorities at a Scottish parliamentary committee hearing recently.

Local government body COSLA told the education, culture and spot committee that "the vast majority" of its 29 members don't support the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Bill. The bill proposes that public bodies should devise plans for putting Gaelic on an equal footing with English. It is understood that only the Highland and Western Isles councils have endorsed it. COSLA officials said they do not believe that placing a legal obligation on councils and other public agencies would best serve the interests of keeping the language alive. But SNP MSP Mike Russell, who has placed the bill before the Parliament, said he found this stance "disappointing" and "more depressing" than anything he had heard as an MSP. Mr Russell accused COSLA's education spokeswoman, Fife councillor Helen Law, of contradicting herself when she initially said COSLA could not take a position on the bill, then appeared to suggest it could not give the measure its support. Ms Law replied that the fact there was "no single view" meant that COSLA as a whole could not endorse the bill and councils had to consider what their local priorities were. She said: "I'm not prepared to sit here and have COSLA ridiculed in this manner. It's an organisation that works very much by consensus and consultation but we don't seek a vote on every issue." East Dunbartonshire councillor Eric Gotts, for COSLA, said the aim of safeguarding the Gaelic language "wouldn't necessarily be achieved by laying down this additional duty on local authorities". He went on: "We don't think legislation is, at this juncture, necessarily the answer. The answer is far more effective funding for authorities who wish to go down this road." Earlier, Highland Council officials pledged support for the bill and pleaded for action from the Parliament so that its own Gaelic policies would no longer operate "in isolation" but could flourish in conjunction with the rest of Scotland. They called for the number of Gaelic teachers to be raised, possibly by as much as 50%. Bruce Robertson, director of Highland Council's education, culture and sport service, acknowledged that the bill alone would not achieve this but added: "The biggest single obstacle to the development of Gaelic in Scotland just now is the lack of qualified teachers. "It was previously felt that 20 new teachers per year were required. I did a survey and local authorities wanted at least 30 teachers a year for the next few years." Andrew Anderson, chairman of the council's education, culture and sport committee, said: "We have people who are in their teens and early 20s now, who came right through the process of Gaelic nursery and Gaelic education at secondary, then at university. "The language they have been educated in all their lives doesn't have legal status. "It would mean a great deal to youngsters thinking of taking up a career that might use the Gaelic language." Allan Beaton, chairman of the council's Gaelic working group, said: "We shouldn't let this opportunity pass us by. "The Scottish Parliament has a great responsibility to ensure that the language does survive and that it shouldn't become a political football."

War Hero Remembers

An 83 year old Norwegian, who became one of his country's most decorated World War II heroes, recently remembered comrades who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Claus Helberg returned to the Highlands for the first time in 60 years to see the rugged terrain where he and fellow countrymen trained before undertaking a vital secret mission. He had been among 400 Norwegians who escaped to Britain in January 1942, to undergo training in the Aviemore area, specifically at Glenmore and Forest Lodge. Just over nine months later, he was on his way back to his home town of Rjukan, with a handful of trained saboteurs with one mission in mind. It was to check on the development of an industrial plant at Wemork, suspected of being linked to a potential Nazi programme to develop atomic power, and with it an A-bomb. Claus and his comrades were ordered to attack the plant after 41 British servicemen, mainly Royal Engineers, were captured and shot during an earlier failed secret mission. They were remembered at a ceremony near Wick, from where their Horsa gliders, towed by two Halifax planes, had taken off. Claus is one of only three surviving members of the attack in February 1943, which was portrayed in the film the Heroes of Telemark. During his visit to the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, Claus paid tribute to his fallen comrades. He was later presented with a statuette of the 50 year old memorial, which commemorates the sacrifice of more than 2,000 commandos.

New Move Hope

Teenager Eoghan Farmer has made all the right moves to establish himself as king of the chessboard. Eoghan, a pupil at Kilchuimen Academy, Fort Augustus, won the Highland Schools Chess Championships at the school - while his 12 year old brother, Calum, helped to make it a family double by taking second place. Eoghan's success follows on from his selection previously to play for the Scottish junior under 14s team. Now the brothers are on the lookout for any other would be young kings and queens in the Inverness area to join them in setting up a chess club. Their dad, Fort Augustus GP Dr Iain Farmer who taught both boys to play, said the aim was to enable other young chess enthusiasts to meet up regularly. "The Inverness Chess Club folded a few years ago because of a lack of support," he stated. However, when he spoke to other chess players there was still some frustration there was no one to play against regularly. Along with another chess enthusiast, Keith Hoban, a maths teacher at Nairn Academy, he is now hoping to encourage younger players by setting up a club. Mr Hoban already runs a chess club at the school which Eoghan also attends. "The only way to get your game to come on is to play against others," Dr Farmer explained. "Eoghan will not improve very much if he does not get many people to play against and Calum is now following in his footsteps."

Lews Castle Revamp

A proposal to turn Lews Castle in Stornoway into a 10 million conference and visitor centre were welcomed recently by the arts and leisure committee of Western Isles Council. The committee agreed to support the formation of Lews Castle Trust Ltd - which would be a company limited by guarantee - and also to nominate two councillors to serve on the body. The castle has been vacant for the past 10 years, when Lews Castle School had to move out because parts of the building were becoming dangerous. Development Officer Iain Macleod told members that there was wet rot in the Grade A listed building. The stonework was in remarkably good condition although there were some problem areas above the roof. He reminded members that a previous proposal to use the Castle as a library and National Gaelic Archive costing 7 million had been unsuccessful in obtaining Heritage Lottery funding. It was now being proposed to use the castle as a conference and visitor centre where accommodation would be provided. It would be taken into public ownership and there would be public and private project funding.

Gateway to the Highlands

A huge bronze sculpture of a stag is just one idea for a magnificent cultural landmark that could greet visitors to the Highlands - if the vision of MP David Stewart and a local artist comes to fruition. Mr Stewart, Labour MP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, is asking Highland Council to consider how such a sculpture could be funded as part of the proposed Year of Culture in 2006. He me renowned Beauly sculptor Leonie Gibbs to discuss his idea for a "Spirit of the North" as a talking point and tourist attraction, as well as a modern monument to Highland culture. They envisage a unique work of art - which could tower 50ft or more off the ground - being situated by the A9 at Drumochter, gateway to the new Cairngorm National Park. Ms Gibbs said a great leaping stag in bronze was just one idea that she felt would symbolise the Highlands. "I enjoyed discussing this ambitious venture with David," she added. "I see this work as marking the rebirth of the Highlands. "In Gaelic culture, the stag stands for strength and virility. It is the perfect symbol for an era in which Highland communities are seeing themselves empowered like never before. People are returning to remote places, bringing prosperity in their wake." Mr Stewart believes a statue could bring the same kins of fame to the Highlands as the "Angel of the North" did to Gateshead. "Antony Gormley's Angel of the North has attracted world wide attention since it was put up near the A1 four years ago," he declared. "It's estimated that 150,000 visitors a year are attracted to the sculpture. "I envisage something just as stunning near the A9 to mark the beginning of Highland Council's area. Drumochter's landscape can be bleak and a large sculpture would not only attract visitors but would act as a beacon for what the Highlands has to offer."

School Gets Facelift

Millburn Academy was given a facelift recently in the form of a 25ft mural. The massive design, which was the work of a group of budding artists from the Inverness school's lunchtime art club, is not only eye catching but it is also a record-breaker for the school. "This is one of the biggest projects ever undertaken by the art club," art teacher Kate Slaven revealed. "We have never attempted anything on this scale before and it was a huge investment of time for the pupils involved." The group of between 10 and 12 pupils gathered in MS Slaven's room on a Wednesday lunchtime painstakingly creating the separate pieces of the mural which took them a whole school year to complete. "Contractors were brought in to fix it to the building but, because it was an in service day, none of the pupils saw it being put up," Ms Slaven explained. "There were certainly a lot of shocked faces walking into school that morning." The academy currently has six murals located in various areas of the building, all of which are part of an on going initiative to brighten up and personalise the school.

Sail Caledonia

Orgainsers have been given the go ahead to launch an ambitious sailing event on the Caledonian Canal similar to one that is already held by a French firm every year. For three years The Great Glen Raid has been organised by Albacore. It receives funding from Highland Council, Inverness and Nairn Enterprise and VisitScotland. But concern was expressed by the funding agencies and some of the competitors about how the event was run, its value for money and a lack of integration with the communities along the Great Glen. It was felt that a similar event, run by a local committee, could be developed at lower cost and could bring greater benefits to local villages. Highland Council's Inverness and area economic development committee considered the plans recently and councillors gave their backing to the new initiative. The Sail Caledonia 2003 event will be held from May 10 to 17. The event will be organised and managed by the Great Glen Sailing Club. A meeting held by British Waterways has already generated a good response, and organisers are now trying to ensure that a programme of events can be developed to broaden the event's appeal.

Charity Event

Heidi Flux of Marine Harvest handed over a cheque for 350 as part of money raised at their quiz night, run for the fourth year for charity. The cheque was presented to Tony Whitelocke, vice chairman of the British Heart Foundation (Lochaber branch) who will be forwarding it to the Highland Heartbeat Appeal. The branch has now donated nearly 1,000

Political Roundup

SNP Call for More Enterprise Areas

Chancellor Gordon Brown has been asked to consider creating extra new enterprise areas in a bid to help fishing communities hit by savage cuts in fishing quotas. The call came from SNP MP Alex Salmond as MPs prepared recently for another debate in the Commons on the European Fisheries Commissioner's demands for an 80% cut in cod and haddock catches.

Highland Weather Forecast

Saturday Afternoon
Cloudy with outbreaks of rain, turning to showers p.m. Winds mod/fresh W'ly. Temperature 4c to 6c.
Saturday Night
Cloudy with scattered showers, turning to snow later. Winds fresh/strong W-SW'ly. Temperature 0c to 2c
Partly cloudy with sunny intervals. A risk of snow showers. Max temperature 3c to 5c.
Mainly cloudy with some bright intervals. A further risk of snow showers. Max temperature 4c to 6c.

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