Belfast Telegraph

Liofa: DUP Irish language U-turn 'olive branch' rejected by Sinn Fein - countdown to election continues

DUP in Irish language cash U-turn as minister Paul Givan reinstates Liofa money

By Jonny Bell

Sinn Fein have rejected Paul Givan's Liofa funding U-turn saying the countdown to the election continues.

A bitter row erupted between Sinn Fein and the DUP over the communities minister's decision to cut the £50,000 just two days before Christmas.

The bursaries helped Irish language students fund the costs involved in visiting the Gaeltacht region of Donegal.

On Thursday the DUP MLA took to Twitter to say he has found the money for the programme.

He also said he was continuing to work with officials on finding a solution on the "bedroom tax" issues. The minister and Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir have clashed over the implementation of measure to prevent Westminster cuts hitting Northern Ireland homes.

The U-turn comes after the minister said his decision was not "anti-Irish" and that he was being "financially prudent".

"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 told the BBC.

Sinn Fein had said the cut in the funding was one of a number of reasons which led to the resignation of Martin McGuinness and that it displayed the lack of respect the DUP had shown to the Irish language.

Reacting Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile described the move as a "climbdown" that won't cure broader problems and wouldn't be seen as an olive branch.

He described the initial pre-Christmas decision as an "under the radar slap".

 

"Any decision to cut £50,000 fund, which was means tested in order to get disadvantaged people to the Gaeltacht, I think everyone saw that in the broader context of RHI. That it was a very cynical decision by the minister," he said.

"Nevertheless he has reversed that decision and that is right.

"This is not seen in isolation and the minister needs to up his game in terms of his responsibilities to the Irish population."

He went on: "If anyone thinks this will fix problems  in terms of RHI, in terms of all the issues of equality, showing dignity and respect and showing civility, that that they will melt away because of Paul Givan's 11th hour decision - the reality is he should not have done it.

"It indicates a real degree of pettiness, nastiness of thinking that exists in the DUP that they would do this on Christmas.

"If anyone thinks this will solve the broader problems they are kidding themselves."

The Republic of Ireland senator said the decision "shone a light on the issue of equality and respect that had never been shown before".

"Every and all communities are fed up to the back teeth of the disrespect, in equality and down-right ignorance being shown," he added.

The east Belfast Sinn Fein member said an election was near unavoidable.

"I would have thought we have gone past that point. But let's see how this plays out," he said.

In a statement, MLA Barry McElduff added: "The decision to cut the Liofa bursary of £50k for disadvantaged children was disgraceful.

“While this reversal is welcome, it is a decision that should never have been taken.

“The DUP has demonstrated contempt for the Irish Language and that must change.

“The rights of the Irish Language speakers need to be recognised and respected.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said the "humiliating climbdown" would embolden Sinn Fein seek further concessions from the DUP.

He described the move as an "embarrassment and a definite failure".

SDLP's Claire Hanna said she was "not sure pins fit neatly back in grenades".

"Good news for Liofa but doesn't excuse his pettiness in first place," said Alliance leader Naomi Long.

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