Northern Ireland

Irish language bursary funding 'found' says Paul Givan

Paul Givan
Image caption Paul Givan tweeted that money had been found to advance the scheme

An Irish language bursary scheme could have its funding restored just days after Sinn Féin said the cut played a role in Stormont's political crisis.

Martin McGuinness said the £50,000 cut was part of the reason for his resignation as deputy first minister.

Communities Minister Paul Givan tweeted that he had "identified the necessary funding to advance" the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme.

He also said the original decision to remove the funding was not "political".

However, speaking to the BBC's Evening Extra programme about restoring the funding, Mr Givan said: "I was not prepared to allow Sinn Féin to use that £50,000 as a political weapon against us in the upcoming election as tool to rally their troops, and so I've taken that away from them."

Image caption Members of the Irish-language community gathered at the Department of Communities offices in Belfast on Thursday

Irish language group Pobal welcomed the move to restore the funding but said that said that there should be "no return to government without an Irish Language Act".

A protest was held in Belfast city centre on Thursday.

A spokesperson for, An Dream Dearg, one of the groups involved, said: "The Irish-language community are no longer willing to accept being treated as second class citizens.

"Eighteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, and more than ten years since the commitment to an Irish language act in the internationally-binding St Andrew's Agreement of 2006, the Irish-language community are Dearg Le Fearg (red with anger) at the repeated failure of authorities to protect and promote our rights."

Image caption The protestors say the cash found for the scheme is not good enough

Mr McGuinness resigned on Monday in protest at the DUP's botched handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which could cost taxpayers £490m.

However, he and Sinn Féin have also cited other concerns with the DUP, including Mr Givan's decision to cut Líofa bursaries.

The scheme enabled at least 100 people a year to attend summer Irish language classes in the Donegal gaeltacht.

The programme was set up by former culture minister, Carál Ní Chuilín.

Mr Givan had been heavily criticised by Sinn Féin over his decision to cut the funding.

Party leader Gerry Adams said that Mr Givan was an "ignoramus" and that the DUP had "shown a serious disrespect for the Irish language".

Common sense or humiliating climbdown?

Politicians have been quick to express their thoughts on Paul Givan's U-turn on the scheme's funding:

Naomi Long, Alliance Party leader

Image copyright Twitter

Catherine Seeley, Sinn Féin MLA

Image copyright Twitter

Steve Aiken, Ulster Unionist Party MLA

Image copyright Twitter

Sinéad Bradley, Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA

Image copyright Twitter

Jim Allister, Traditional Unionist Voice MLA

Image copyright Twitter

Claire Bailey, Green Party MLA

Image copyright Twitter

Gerry Carroll, People Before Profit MLA

Image copyright Twitter

A new Northern Ireland Assembly election is highly likely following Mr McGuinness' decision to quit.

The original decision to cut Líofa bursaries was announced by Mr Givan's Department for Communities (DfC) in an email sent to the boards of the gaeltacht colleges on 23 December.

It read, In Irish: "Because of efficiency savings, the department will not be providing the Líofa bursary scheme in 2017. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year."

At the time, the president of Comhaltas Uladh, the Ulster branch of Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge, described the move as a "blatant act of discrimination".

"Comhaltas Uladh of Conradh na Gaeilge, considers this to be quite simply a deliberate and cynical attack on the Irish language, without any justification nor reason," said Dr Niall Comer.

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