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Over £144m spent on Irish medium education in last five years

A CnaG spokesperson said that it costs just £116 more per year to educate children through Irish medium than the English system, while SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said that, whether children were educated through the English or Irish mediums, their education would still have to be paid for by the department for Education

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Irish Language Act supporters at Stormont

Irish Language Act supporters at Stormont

Irish Language Act supporters at Stormont

The Department for Education has provided over £144m to the Irish language sector in the last five years, it has been revealed.

The figures came to light following an Assembly written question from TUV leader Jim Allister.

In response to his question the department revealed that £144,351,854 had been spent on Irish medium education from 2015/16 to 2019/20.

The figures for 2019/20 include allocations to date and are subject to change.

Mr Allister said the money put to bed the idea of the Irish language sector in Northern Ireland being any kind of "poor relation" when it comes to funding.

However, Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta (CnaG), which promotes Irish language medium education and schools in Northern Ireland, said Irish language schools were still being left behind when compared with their English counterparts.

A CnaG spokesperson said that it costs just £116 more per year to educate children through Irish medium than the English system and that this made up 0.1% of the overall education budget in Northern Ireland.

The highest spend came in 2017/18 when the Department for Education provided £32,347,139 to the Irish language sector, with the lowest being the £26,618,522 committed for 2019/20.

There are currently over 40 Irish medium schools in Northern Ireland at primary and post-primary level.

Irish language provision has been a controversial topic in Northern Ireland in recent years. Stormont collapsed in January 2017 partly due to the withdrawal of funding from the Liofa Irish language bursary scheme.

Sinn Fein refused to return to Stormont without a standalone Irish Language Act in place.

The New Decade New Approach deal, agreed last month to restore the Stormont institutions, includes a number of measures to promote the Irish language, including the appointment of an Irish language commissioner, however the deal falls short of a standalone act.

Mr Allister said that the funding given the schools was "very generous" and rejected claims the language was underfunded.

“In light of the fact that for years we have been fed propaganda about alleged discrimination against Irish speakers these figures will doubtless come as shock to anyone who gave any credit to the claims," the North Antrim MLA said.

“In truth the Irish language sector is in receipt of very generous sums of public money. Over £144 million in the past five years.

“These figures should put to bed the idea that Irish is the poor relation when it comes to public funding in Northern Ireland. It also strengthens the case against the Irish Language legislation proposed by Mrs Foster and Ms O’Neill. There is no basis on which to warrant further endless squander on Irish when essential public services are under serious pressure.”

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone rejected Mr Allister's comments, saying that whether children were educated through the English or Irish mediums their education would still have to be paid for by the department.

"Whether they are educated in English or Irish it will still have to be paid for by the public purse," the fluent Irish speaker said.

"When you look at the education crisis we have at the minute I don't think there is a school in the country that would accept they get too much money.

"I think Jim Allister should go and visit some of these Irish language schools and then see if he still thinks they are being over-funded."

The CnaG spokesperson that Irish medium schools had to go through the same development process as any other school before being approved.

"For people asking why we need further funding, at present 60% of Irish medium schools are housed in non-permanent buildings," the spokesperson said.

"We are the fastest growing education sector at present, we have no assessment tools and no learning support centres.

"There is a complete lack of teaching and learning resources at all levels."

Belfast Telegraph