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DUP's Paul Givan hits back at Sinn Fein over Irish language bursary attack

By Rebecca Black

Ex-Communities Minister Paul Givan has hit back at Sinn Fein over criticism of his former department for its handling of an Irish language scheme.

In a report published yesterday, the Equality Commission found the department failed to comply with equality rules by not carrying out assessments before cutting the £55,000 Liofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme in December 2016 and also when creating the Community Halls Pilot Programme in October 2016.

The commission's investigation found that "both the scheme and the programme should have been treated as policies for the purposes of its equality duties and equality scheme arrangements".

"Both concern the distribution of public money based on set criteria and award processes and, in both instances, the funding options presented to the minister for decision should have been informed by an equality assessment against the objectives set for the expenditure," the report said.

Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney blasted the DUP over the findings relating to the department run by Paul Givan at the time.

He claimed that both decisions made by Mr Givan "contributed significantly to the collapse of the power-sharing institutions".

But yesterday Mr Givan responded by pointing out there had been no criticism of any minister within the Equality Commission report.

He also pointed out that the report notes that no equality screening was carried out before the introduction of the Liofa scheme in 2011 when Sinn Fein MLA Caral Ni Chuilin was minister of what was then the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure. Mr Givan accused Sinn Fein of displaying double standards in the party's response to the report.

"Sinn Fein can't have it both ways. Comments from the Equality Commission relating to the Liofa bursary scheme in the period after the Department for Communities was created also apply to the scheme's establishment under the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure and the then Sinn Fein Minister," he said.

"There is no criticism of any minister within the report, but if Declan Kearney is laying down ministerial responsibility then surely that must apply across the board.

"Declan Kearney says that ignoring equality legislation impacts on the public's confidence about integrity in government.

"Under the Freedom of Information Act, the Department for Communities has said that no screening was carried out for the introduction of the Liofa bursaries." He added: "There are issues raised within the report that the Department for Communities will wish to examine and act upon.

"What the report highlights most starkly, however, is the cynical opportunism of Sinn Fein."

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the commission's findings again showed that the Stormont institutions needed to be restored so that decisions can be scrutinised.

He said: "It is also an example as to why we need an Irish Language Act with an independent commissioner at its core to oversee policy development and to ensure that rights-based legislation is delivered upon, independent of politicians."

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