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DUP and SF clash over cuts to Irish language Liofa bursery

By Claire O'Boyle

A fresh tug of war has broken out at Stormont over funding for languages.

A bitter row between Sinn Fein and the DUP over a £50,000 cut to an Irish language bursary scheme has blown up.

Communities Minister Paul Givan, who axed the grant in December, told the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show the Irish language has always received more public money than Ulster Scots.

"If there has been a ­disparity of funding it has been toward the Irish language and traditions compared to Ulster Scots. So that nails the myth I have been pursuing something that is anti-Irish - quite the opposite in fact," he said.

Last year, Foras na Gaeilge, which promotes Irish language and culture, received £2.59m under Mr Givan's watch, while the Ulster Scots Agency was awarded £1.76m in funding.

In 2014, Foras na Gaeilge received £3.302m compared to £1.856m for the Ulster Scots Agency.

In 2015, they received £3.076m and £1.836m respectively.

"There has always been a big gap between how the Irish language and Ulster Scots have been treated," said the DUP's Nelson McCausland.

"The suggestion Irish has somehow been discriminated against here is simply not correct. There is still a very big sum of money going to Irish through different budgets, Irish medium schools, higher and further education.

"The Liofa bursary was flawed from the outset. Caral Ni Chulain set it up in a drip-by-drip fashion as a very clear Sinn Fein initiative.

"There was no coherent programme, no thorough plan and no clear figures to work with.

"When the Good Friday Agreement was made, the preferential treatment of the Irish language was established and it has carried on since then. We need to address this, to establish true equality and fairness between Irish and the Ulster Scots tradition."

But Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff said comparing the languages in a like-for-like fashion wasn't realistic.

"To compare Irish and Ulster Scots is a red herring," said the MLA for West Tyrone.

"I absolutely agree that the Ulster Scots language and culture should get support and funding, but in terms of level of interest and demand for access, the two languages are not comparable.

"The bursary, which was means-tested for less well-off young people who want to learn the language, was a positive thing and now it's gone.

"I wonder what the DUP are doing with this issue? If they are simply unaware or ignorant of the significance of insulting the Irish language in this way, that's one thing.

"Perhaps this could be solved with discussion and education. But if, as many people suspect it was, a deliberate and provocative act then that's much more worrying.

"To insult the Irish language like this is a poke in the eye for nationalists. We fully agree that Ulster Scots culture, its language, music and traditions deserve respect.

"But equally, so does the Irish language, and we will be protesting at the Department of Communities on Thursday to demand the Liofa bursary is restored. On one hand we've got allegations of corruption, and on the other we have what seems like a clear move of disrespect to the nationalist community and the Irish language."

Mr Givan also said that Gerry Adams's description of him as an "ignoramus" over his decision to axe Liofa's funding showed "progress" on previous remarks aimed at unionists.

In November 2014, Gerry Adams told a public meeting that equality was the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy to "break these b*******".

He later apologised and said his comments were aimed at bigots.

Mr Givan denied he was trying to get back at Sinn Fein by axing the funding, saying the republican party had created a "tantrum" over him being prudent with financial planning.

Asked what he thought of Mr Adams "ignoramus" remark, the MLA said: "Given that it is Gerry Adams resorting to calling names, I think that speaks for itself.

"I don't need to give credence to someone of his character in respect of the way he wants to go about throwing names.

"We know what he said in the past that 'equality was the Trojan horse to break these...' and he then used the expletive word.

"So I suppose being called an ignoramus is progress on what he called us before."

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