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Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff warns over Irish language scheme cuts

Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff said the DUP was engaged in "active disrespect" of Irish culture and identity. Picture by Mal McCann 

A SINN Féin MLA has warned that cutting an Irish language bursary scheme "does not augur well for the political process".

West Tyrone representative and gaeilgeoir Barry McElduff said the decision by Communities Minister Paul Givan to end the £50,000 Líofa Gaeltacht scheme reflected the DUP's "active disrespect" of Irish culture and identity.

He said the decision was indicative of a "deteriorating relationship" between Stormont's two biggest parties.

The axing of the bursary scheme, which is aimed at disadvantaged young people from both sides of the community, came to light two days before Christmas.

An email in Irish sent from the Líofa office to the boards of the north's gaeltacht colleges translated as: "Because of efficiency savings, the department will not be providing the Líofa bursary scheme in 2017. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year."

The scheme was set up by former Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Carál Ní Chuilín.

Mr McElduff said it was possible the move was a "distraction" from the RHI controversy but he said it was also in keeping with a general pattern of behaviour that treated Irish culture negatively.

"Speaking personally, I do not regard this as a firm basis for going forward and I think it does not augur well for the political process," he told The Irish News.

"Not a week goes past without somebody from the DUP belittling the Irish language or Irish culture – either they don't get the significance of what they are doing or they are deliberately engaging in active disrespect of Irish identity."

Mr McElduff said he had written to the minister outlining his concerns.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said Mr Givan's move was a "bid to start a deflectionary bun fight".

"After watching the DUP set fire to £400million – or £600million according to the Finance Minister – this announcement will leave a sour taste for the Irish speaking community," he said.

"Without wanting to sound cynical, one has to wonder if minister Givan hasn't taken this decision, at this particular time, to reintroduce tribal politics to a public currently focused on the DUP's many financial scandals."

Around 100 people a year received bursaries from the Líofa Gaeltacht scheme to improve their Irish language skills at classes in the Donegal gaeltacht.

First piloted in 2012, it enabled those on lower incomes to avail of the Gaeltacht experience.

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