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‘Side deals’ row reignited by £20m for Irish language

By David Gordon

A £20m boost for Irish language projects has sparked a fresh row about alleged “side deals” in the Hillsborough Castle Agreement.

The funding was made public alongside details of a recent bust-up on the language issue between Sinn Fein and the London and Dublin governments.

Party president Gerry Adams said he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had a “blazing row” with Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen at the talks.

The UUP and TUV have claimed the £20m outlay is further evidence of side deals linked to the Hillsborough deal.

The funding injection is being made available by Mr Brown's Government, rather than the Stormont Executive. It includes £12m over a four-year period for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund.

The remaining £8m will go on capital projects such as the expansion of centre premises. Meanwhile, £5m is also being provided for an Ulster-Scots broadcasting fund.

In another development, DUP Culture Minister Nelson McCausland has told MLAs he will be producing a draft minority languages strategy next month. Its aims will include the enhancement of the Irish language and Ulster-Scots.

The DUP has insisted that this strategy will fall far short of the Irish Language Act demanded by Sinn Fein.

Writing in his blog, however, Mr Adams claimed an Act was inevitable and predicted Irish speakers “will change this society and make it truly bilingual”.

He also stated that Mr Brown and Mr Cowen had failed to address Irish language rights in the early stages of the Hillsborough talks.

“The Taoiseach did raise this issue eventually but that was only after Martin McGuinness and I had a blazing row with him and Gordon Brown,” he said. And Mr Adams added: “The DUP obviously didn't want to deal with these matters at all but they certainly know that important issues like this are not going to go away. They know that it is only a matter of time before an Acht na Gaeilge becomes a reality.”

The £20m was made public on the Sinn Fein president’s blog.

The Irish language will also be one of the issues on the agenda of a new Stormont Executive working group, planned under the Hillsborough deal.

Its remit is to examine unresolved issues from the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

Condemning the £20m allocation, TUV leader Jim Allister said: “So, despite all the DUP assurances of Hillsborough delivering nothing for the Irish language, it now emerges that a further £20m is to be wasted on promoting Irish and its anti-British agenda as part of yet another sop to Sinn Fein.”

Mr McCausland yesterday hailed the financing for the Ulster-Scots broadcasting fund.

“The DUP is able to announce good news for unionists, good news for Ulster and all Jim Allister can do is issue Press statements attacking those who are really delivering for unionism,” the Culture Minister added.

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