by The Rambler 28/12/2000
SO LEDU is to get the chop? At least that is what I have heard from the media. It must be more than 28 years since it was set up by the Stormont government.
Prior to that, the Northern Ireland Council of Social Services, a voluntary organisation run by Cushendall man the late G B Newe, and based at Bryson House, established a committee for the development of local industry.
The late Lord Dunleath and the late William McLaughlin of McLaughlin and Harvey were active members of that committee.
Other members were mostly country folk, including several enthusiastic ladies.
A ministry of commerce official was attached to the committee as an assessor, ie, observer,
The decision to replace the voluntary body with a quango in the early 70s was a political one instigated by the then Minister of commerce the late Roy Bradford, I think.
Its remit was limited to small firms employing under 50 or some figure like that.
The idea mast have been to relieve the Industrial Development Branch of the then Ministry of Commerce of responsibility for 'small fry.
At that time the man-made fiber industry was the big fish.
Latterly, another body, under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture, has been active in the field of rural development.
It too has been in the headlines this week following critical comments by a watchdog committee of the assembly.
Down through the years I have monitored the activities, or rather non activities. of the various quangos in regard to the preservation of a craft industry well known to readers of the 'Star', Aghalee/Aghagallon basket-makers.
Books have been written about it, videos been made and the pathetically small band of weavers still around feature regularly on TV, but none of the bodies which I have listed appears to have done anything to preserve the centuries- old local industry, which seems now on the verge of extinction
I know of only one man still weaving osiers locally and he is past retirement age. But he is internationally famous for his unique skill.
Who, headdress is needed for mummers or figure- heads for London Borough Councils, the expert from the Montiaghs is always commissioned. (I am refraining from naming him since he shuns publicity).
The Germans have not treated their osier-based craft thus. They have a National Training body and a National Basket Museum.
I have researched the field in Bavaria and marvelled at the way that willow-weavers have graduated into the field of exotic coloured pent house furniture of the kind on display close to the 'Star' office.
I make no apology for suggesting that a craft industry is a prime tourist attraction and ought to he rescued.
I am also well aware of the competition from low-cost imports and the need for subsdisation, but tourist promotion always costs money.
What is needed urgently is a basket -making training school before it is too late.
The best osiers in the country flourish in the Montiaghs and the inherited skill still survives. but only just.
Profit making should surely not be the only criteria?
A book on this subject which was launched at Lisburn, Museum in 1991 is still on sale there