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DUP silent on latest Irish language claims

By Noel McAdam

The DUP has declined to comment on new claims over Communities Minister Paul Givan's axing of a £50,000 grant scheme for the Irish language, which was later reversed.

An investigation by The Detail website revealed his department failed to conduct a formal assessment of the impact of closing the Liofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme.

In a document from when the new department was established last May, it said any changes - referring to any "strategy, policy initiative or practice and/or decision" - would be subject to "equality screening", which is carried out to assess the impact on the affected community.

However, a letter sent to the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) confirmed "no equality screening assessment was undertaken."

"There is no recurring budget attached to the scheme, and a decision on whether or not to continue the scheme is taken annually and is always subject to resources becoming available," it said.

"Given the anticipated budget reductions, and the fact that Liofa target of 20,000 people pledged to learn Irish by 2020 having been substantially achieved, the scheme was discontinued."

But CAJ's Daniel Holder said: "There are further questions as to compliance with the ministerial code, the substantive equality duties and other matters that should be clarified by the release of the paper trail that should show what happened."

The Equality Commission said public bodies have a statutory duty to "have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard the desirability of promoting good relations".

The letter was dated January 13, the day after Mr Givan announced he was restoring the fund in a message on Twitter. His U-turn came after the minister insisted his original decision was not "anti-Irish", and that he was being "financially prudent".

The DUP yesterday declined to comment, and said it was a matter for the Department for Communities.

The Detail said the department had given no response.

The DUP also defended leader Arlene Foster's role after two councils attempted to use bilingual signs along the St Patrick's trail route in south Down "despite the fact that the former NI Tourist Board (NITB), who was funding, had a policy of single language signage". The Detail reported that the board subsequently ruled out the possibility of funding bilingual signage and cited a policy for 'English only' signs, except where an attraction was already named and known in the Irish language.

It reported documents showing that Mrs Foster, who was DETI minister at the time with responsibility for tourism, became involved in correspondence with the NITB over the dispute.

A short email in 2010 from Mrs Foster's office read: "Please note that the minister has instructed that NITB policy paper should be adhered to and NITB should not consider funding bilingual signage."

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