Language row as Sinn Fein unveils policies on Irish and Ulster-Scots
TUV chief accuses Culture Minister of ‘Trojan horse’
A fresh political storm has erupted over two new blueprints aimed at boosting the Irish language and Ulster-Scots.
Two separate strategy documents have been issued by Sinn Fein Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, who also vowed to press ahead with legislation to underpin Irish - a Bill to be published next month.
TUV leader Jim Allister hit out at the move, particularly given the austerity measures facing Stormont.
The North Antrim MLA claimed: "She wants to squander further millions on a language which is of no economic benefit to the people of Northern Ireland at a time when there's schools going short, there's hospitals going short.
"I suspect her document in typical Sinn Fein fashion is a Trojan horse to deliver their politicised agenda and the promotion of the Irish language."
The Culture Department's strategies to promote Ulster-Scots and Irish - described as 'road maps' for the next 20 years - come almost eight years after they were first envisaged in the St Andrews Agreement.
The extensive documents are written in both English and Irish and the 'hamely tangue' of Ulster-Scots, yet do not include costings.
The DUP has already pledged it will block any move towards an Irish Language Act, and now a row is set to hit the Assembly committee that monitors Ms Ni Chuilín's department.
Its chairman, Nelson McCausland, has warned the strategies "will be a futile exercise, but at least put the spotlight on the Sinn Fein plan for an Irish Language Act and both the possible content and the probable cost of such an Act".
Yesterday he claimed the minister had been "disrespectful" to the committee by not sending copies of the strategy documents to members a few days in advance of going public.
"They are a requirement of the St Andrews Agreement so you could not have had one without the other," the former Social Development Minister warned.
"I would also have thought there should be a further consultation on these strategies rather than being told, particularly when this is a cross-departmental matter and departments will face costs directly if some of these proposals are implemented.
"I hope that whatever money has been spent on drawing up these documents has been spent wisely, but as it is I have not had a chance to read these documents."
Ms Ní Chuilín argued: "Irish and Ulster-Scots are key aspects of our culture, heritage and identity. The strategies set out road maps for the Irish language and Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture over the next 20 years in a range of areas such as education, public services, the community and the media."
She said the Irish strategy aimed to break down barriers "and negative preconceptions" while Ulster-Scots would increase awareness to "highlight the positive and significant role of Ulster-Scots for all our community" and exploit the tourism potential.
"I encourage everyone to take the time to read these documents and as I announced in the Assembly, I will be launching a consultation on proposals for an Irish Language Bill in February," she added.
Mr Allister described it as "but a nod to Ulster-Scots", adding that it deserved development as a culture but not as a language.
The issue of legislation on the Irish language was on Sinn Fein's list in the recent multi-party negotiations which led to the Stormont House Agreement.
But unionists have pointed out it did not form part of the final heads of agreement document and the Act is likely to be blocked at the Executive.
The SDLP's Dominic Bradley, who also sits on the committee, said however: "It is important that obstructionist attitudes do not thwart the development and implementation of these strategies.
"They are both very important in terms of the identities of people here who cannot be ignored and have been waiting to see these for eight years since the St Andrews Agreement."
Mr Bradley said he understood the department would deal with any costs from its existing budgets - and that any requirements placed on other departments by legislation would have to come from those departments' coffers.
Committee member Basil McCrea claimed: "It's a political move that is not to the advantage of the Irish language."