Stormont culture, arts and leisure minister Nelson McCausland (DUP, North Belfast) is a funny cove. There’s the matter of his extraordinary political trajectory from UUUP (remember them?) to Independent to UUP to DUP, but that isn’t the half of it. Nelson seems determined to encapsulate within his own person as many loyalist tropes as possible. He’s an Ulster-Scots enthusiast, and will recite chunks of Burns from memory if you ask him. He has an unnerving tendency to whip out his accordion to provide the masses with musical entertainment. He was for many years the heid-yin of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, a small group of earnest people who liked to go about chaining up swings on the Sabbath. He also used to be a British Israelite, and for all I know may still be. The great man even has his own blog, where you can read his whimsical thoughts.
So this story surprised me not one bit:
The culture minister has asked museums to give more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe.
Nelson McCausland wrote to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) saying he wants the issues given consideration in the short term.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said it was part of its commitment to a shared future strategy.
It is understood National Museums NI has not yet responded to the letter.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr McCausland said: “There are a range of perspectives and I want simply to have in there consideration given to reflecting the diversity of views in Northern Ireland.
“It’s also in fact a human rights issue and an equality issue because culture rights, the rights of people in Northern Ireland, should be implemented.”
In the letter, Mr McCausland said he believes his department and the trustees “share a common desire to ensure that museums are reflective of the views, beliefs and cultural traditions that make up society in Northern Ireland.”
He says National Museums’ contribution to the shared future agenda can best be achieved by “practical measures”.
Among these measures are consideration of how best to recognise the role of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and other fraternal organisations.
He specifically mentions the “Plantation to Power Sharing” exhibition which is currently on at the Ulster Museum and suggests that the trustees should consider changes to the exhibition before the summer months.
In terms of Ulster-Scots, Mr McCausland wrote that the local history exhibition should recognise the contribution of the Hamilton Montgomery Settlement, considered to be the most important event in Ulster-Scots history.
The issue of the origin of the universe and the different theories explaining it was previously raised by Mr McCausland’s DUP assembly colleague Mervyn Storey.
He said that he wanted the views of creationists – the concept of God creating the universe in contrast to the scientific theory of evolution – to be represented in the exhibitions.
Without specifically mentioning creationism, Mr McCausland’s letter includes a request for the trustees to consider how alternative views of the origin of the universe can be recognised and accomodated.
In a statement, DCAL said it welcomed the discussions on the NMNI’s potential contribution to the shared future agenda and was awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, SDLP culture spokesman Thomas Burns said it was “a mark of a liberal society that its cultural institutions should be free of party-political interference”.
“Any attempt to politicise public spaces or dictate to cultural institutions is a serious threat to our hopes of a shared society and should be resolutely resisted,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff criticised Mr McCausland’s letter as “wholly unacceptable”.
Well, now. Museum exhibitions on Orangeism, or the north’s links with Scotland, are one thing; these are part of our history, like it or no. It’s the weird science of the Young Earth creationists, who are legion in the DUP, that raises eyebrows in the metropolis. Indeed, the Stephen Nolan show this morning had none other than Professor Dawkins, taking a break from the Lord George Gordon Re-Enactment Society to indulge in a bit of bashing of the straw minister.
This is the sort of thing that makes respectable unionists in places like North Down think twice about supporting the DUP; after all, could you really introduce these guys to David Cameron? It’s all a matter of how it reflects on Norn Iron in the all-important British view. As for me, I think Nelson should be a museum exhibit himself, as exemplifying the wondrous phenomenology of the unionist mind.
More on this from Mark.