Unionists hit out over council's 'funding bias' towards Irish language
Mid Ulster Council has been given a tongue-lashing by outraged unionists for spending £80,000 on promoting the Irish language - despite it being only the sixth most commonly spoken in the area.
Not a single penny was spent on any other language as part of a funding scheme despite Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese and Slovak being more widely spoken locally.
With 406 people in the council area speaking Irish as their first language, the £80,000 equated to £200 spent per Irish speaker.
It is understood consultation is now under way about investing in the promotion of Ulster-Scots.
Mid Ulster Council defended the expenditure, claiming it had a responsibility under a European charter to promote Irish.
But DUP councillor Wilbert Buchanan blasted it as a waste of cash at a time when the council was trying to save money.
He said 40% of the local population was unionist and an even higher percentage had no interest in the Irish language.
"The council ran a consultation which found 50% of respondents don't really want Irish at all," he added.
According to the 2011 Census, Irish is the sixth most commonly spoken first language in Mid Ulster.
Most residents (124,496) speak English, followed by 2,033 with Lithuanian, 2,004 with Polish, 903 with Portuguese, 475 with Slovak and 406 with Irish.
Mr Buchanan sat on the former Cookstown Council before being elected to Mid Ulster Council, which took over responsibility for the area last year.
He said he had noticed a push towards promoting Irish language and culture since the new council took over.
Ulster Unionist Trevor Wilson also expressed discomfort at the level of spending on Irish.
"It is extremely disappointing," he added. "Nobody should be afraid of a language, but there has got to be some sort of equality and fairness right across the council area. Languages should not be used for political ends."
Mid Ulster Council opened a regional and minority languages bursary scheme last April, attracting 200 applications.
A total of 159 obtained funding totalling almost £23,500 to attend summer Gaeltacht courses in 2015.
A further 25 community groups received Irish language activity funding of £15,995 last November to run classes and heritage talks.
Another £5,000 was contributed to events to celebrate the Irish language, and the council worked with Ulster University to provide Irish Language diplomas in Cookstown.
Further projects to be delivered this year include one for schools costing £18,000 and the Gaelfest festival in March at a cost of around £15,000.
A council spokesperson said: "We have a specific responsibility under the European Charter to promote and develop Irish and Ulster-Scots, and the bursary scheme was open to applications in all regional and minority languages, not just those who speak Irish.
"Beyond particular funding schemes, the council does also actively support those who speak lamguages other than English through our community development and good relations programmes."