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Professor Malachy Ó Néill, Professor of Irish at Ulster University, has been appointed to the Department for Communities’ Irish Language Strategy Expert Advisory Panel, and Dr Frank Ferguson, Director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, has been appointed to its Ulster-Scots Language, Heritage and Culture Strategy Expert Advisory Panel.

The Irish Language Strategy and the Strategy for Ulster-Scots Language, Heritage and Culture will bring focus to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language, and to enhance and develop the Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture.

Expert Advisory Panels:

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey announced the establishment of Expert Advisory Panels that will bring together a wide range of academic and community experience in shaping these strategies, and they are made up of representatives across academia and the Irish Language and Ulster-Scots Language Heritage and Culture sectors.

The Expert Advisory Panels will set the direction for each strategy by making effective recommendations and identifying the key actions that the strategies should seek to address.

Professor Malachy Ó Néill:

Professor Ó Néill’s contribution nationally to the Irish language impacts positively on the learning experience of language students globally, and outreach centres he has established ensure access to the language for all.

Having completed his BA and PhD at Ulster University, Malachy taught in post-primary and was Head of Irish at St Mary’s Grammar School (Magherafelt), prior to taking up a lectureship in Modern Irish at Ulster in 2008. He served as the inaugural Head of School of Irish Language and Literature (2012-2017) and took up the Provost portfolio in 2016. He was awarded a Principal Fellowship (AdvanceHE) in 2019, in recognition of his outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education, and this was followed by a National Teaching Fellowship, the highest accolade in UK Higher Education, later that year.

Malachy is a member of the Irish Language, Literature and Celtic Cultures Committee (Royal Irish Academy) and the Language Development Forum of Foras na Gaeilge. He is also the Department of Education appointed representative on the Armagh Diocesan Education Committee (DEC) of the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools and he has served on the governing body of North West Regional College since 2017.

A former editor of the An tUltach journal (2008-10), Malachy was founding chairperson of Gaelscoil Eoghain, Cookstown (2012). He enjoys close ties with the Donegal Gaeltacht, facilitating courses for teenagers and adult learners of Irish for many years.

Malachy has initiated and led a number of widening access programmes, including ‘Gaeilge sa Chlub / Irish in the Club’ (with Ulster GAA) and ‘Irish for All’ (with East Belfast Mission).

His research includes modern Irish pedagogy, the Ó Néill dynasty and Irish language theatre.

On his appointment, Professor Malachy Ó Néill, said:

The Irish language belongs to us all and is a valuable part of our shared cultural heritage, and it is a great honour to have been appointed to the Expert Advisory Panel for the creation of an Irish language Strategy within the Executive.

I feel privileged to support the development and content of this Strategy, which will enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language, for everyone who chooses to learn and use it.”

Dr Frank Ferguson:

Dr Ferguson is the Director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies at Ulster University, as well as a Researcher and Lecturer in Ulster and Scottish writing, literary diaspora studies, Scotch-Irish literature and culture, Irish and British book history and the study of the Romantic period ballad in Britain and Ireland.

Dr Ferguson joined Ulster University in 2005 as a Research Associate at the Institute of Ulster Scots Studies and became a Lecturer in 2010. Before then, he had taught at Queen’s University Belfast, from where he holds a PhD, MA and BA.

Awarded a Distinguished Research Fellowship in 2014, his work on Ulster-Scots writing and book history has been recognised as internationally excellent. He has published extensively on the Ulster Scots tradition.

As Director of the Centre for Irish and Scottish literature, Frank leads a number of ongoing academic and community projects, such as the Ulster-Scots Education Project and the Ulster Poetry Project.

On his appointment to the panel, Dr Frank Ferguson said:

“I am delighted to be invited to participate in this very important advisory panel. This provides a great opportunity to examine our linguistic and cultural landscape and I look forward to assessing how we can celebrate and develop this in the best ways possible for current and future generations.”

The strategies will fulfil the commitments in New Decade, New Approach and will align with the Executive’s Programme for Government.

Malachy and Frank’s panel appointments began in January 2021.