Belfast Telegraph

Nelson McCausland: 171 million reasons why I’m really looking forward to start of talks about equality

There is a discussion to be had about cultural identity, but there are other issues too, writes Nelson McCausland

The Sinn Fein demand for an Irish Language Act is often couched in terms of ‘equality’ — a word much beloved by Sinn Fein, in spite of the fact that they couldn’t spell it correctly on some of their recent Irish language posters.

Indeed, there is so much bleating from them about the Irish language that an outsider might imagine that next to nothing is spent on it. That’s why it was so helpful when Nigel Dodds produced figures highlighting the spend.

Over a period of five years, there was £88.4m revenue for Irish-medium schools, £30.9m capital for Irish-medium schools, £11.9m in grants to Irish language projects, £15m for the Irish Language Broadcast Fund, £11.1m to Foras na Gaeilge, £8m for An Ciste Infheistiochta Gaeilge (CIG), £5m for Irish language broadcasting from the BBC and then, on top of that, Caral ni Chuilin stripped away £0.9m from other programmes to pay for her Liofa initiative.

That brings us to a total of more than £171m over five years.

And Sinn Fein is well-embedded in this. CIG is a capital infrastructure fund for Irish language cultural centres and the current directors include Maria Caraher, a former Sinn Fein politician and now an Irish-medium principal, former Sinn Fein politician Gearoid O Heara and Sinn Fein adviser Rosaleen McCorley. Mairtin O Muilleoir is a former director and it was launched in 2010 by Gerry Adams.

Sinn Fein were happy to see £171m flow into their cultural project, but where is the equality? As Nigel Dodds observed: “Sinn Fein demands more for Irish while other cultures suffer massive discrimination. We need to see cultural equality in Northern Ireland.”

The publication of this information a few days ago seems to have sent the Sinn Fein politburo into a frenzy and they produced a statement issued in the names of various Sinn Fein politicians.

Their statement did not attempt to dispute the figures, but instead simply accused Nigel Dodds of “contempt for the Irish language and identity”.

Now note that carefully. Sinn Fein did not merely say “contempt for the Irish language”, but also for “Irish identity”, because, ultimately, that is what the Sinn Fein language project is all about.

It is about affirming a dominant and all-pervasive Irish national identity and building that identity through the Irish language. That’s how Gerry Adams explained it at the start, 30 years ago.

Nigel Dodds made a very reasonable proposal and said: “A good starting point would be an audit to establish exactly how much funding different cultural identities are receiving and then we can have a meaningful discussion about the equitable distribution of resources.”

At that point, the Sinn Fein mask slipped even further and they replied: “The call by the DUP for an audit of how much funding goes to different cultural identities is yet another example of the DUP attempting to sectarianise this campaign.”

A call for an audit, a call for transparency and a call for equality are damned by Sinn Fein as “sectarian”. No, they are not. And Gerry Adams and Michelle O’Neill need to realise that turning the spotlight on Irish language funding is only the start. It’s time for transparency.

So, when it comes to conversations on equality and discrimination, there are a lot of things I want to see on the table. There will be plenty of issues around cultural equality, but there are other issues as well.

What about the full implementation of the Military Covenant in Northern Ireland? What about equality in BBC Northern Ireland output? What about recognition and resources from Sport NI for the Northern Ireland Boxing Association, not just the Irish Boxing Association? What about equality between the various school sectors in Northern Ireland? And that is just the start of my list.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to those negotiations about equality.

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