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Northern Ireland news

Paul Givan reverses cuts to Irish language scheme

Communities Minister Paul Givan said he has found money for the Líofa project

The DUP's Communities Minister Paul Givan has said he has found the money to keep an Irish language bursary open, weeks after a decision was made to cut funding.

Mr Givan's decision before Christmas to cut £50,000 from the Líofa scheme led to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams branding him as an "ignoramus".

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has said the scrapping of the scheme was the "straw that broke the camel's back" as Martin McGuinness announced his resignation as deputy first minister following the RHI scandal.

In a tweet on Thursday morning, Mr Givan said: "My decision on the Liofa Bursary Scheme was not a political decision.

"I have now identified the necessary funding to advance this scheme."

The shock development has been interpreted by some as a DUP olive branch to Sinn Fein as devolution teeters on the brink.

In his resignation letter on Monday, Martin McGuinness hit out at the DUP’s “negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture”.

Following Mr Givan's u-turn, TUV leader Jim Allister told the BBC: "The DUP has ofren done rollover for Sinn Féin but this has to be one of the most spectacular rollovers.". He said the DUP are "so desperate to cling to power that when Sinn Féin demand their new lorry load of concessions, they will pay up."

The move came as Alliance Party leader Naomi Long claimed the DUP had approached a party colleague and asked them to join lobbying of Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to postpone calling a snap election.

"They simply asked if we would be willing to work on a cross-party basis to request to the Secretary of State that, rather than have an election, he suspend the institutions so we could have talks," she said.

Martin McGuinness's decision to resign as deputy first minister on Monday lit the fuse on Stormont's implosion. His departure forced DUP leader Arlene Foster from her role as first minister and triggered a procedural chain of events that will end with the calling of an election on Monday, if Sinn Fein does not reappoint a deputy first minister by then.

After Monday's meltdown, the DUP and Sinn Fein had also been at odds on whether mitigation payments to support households losing out under the Government's so-called "bedroom tax" could be paid.

Mr Givan claimed they could not without the approval of the now paralysed executive, but Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir insisted Mr Givan did have the authority.

In another tweet on Thursday, Mr Givan said: "Continuing to work with officials on finding a solution on bedroom tax."

SDLP Irish Language spokesperson Patsy McGlone said: “We welcome that the Minister has decided to reverse this shamefully bigoted decision that should never have been made in the first place.

 “The Minister’s sudden and unexplained U-turn will confirm for many that his decision was a ham-fisted attempt at political positioning. It lays bare that this was first and foremost a political tactic designed to use tribal politics to distract from a DUP leader under fire or perhaps to create a bargaining chip for another backroom deal. It has backfired spectacularly."

Prior to this morning's announcement, Irish language supporters announced a protest in Belfast to fight cuts to funding.

An Dream Dearg ('the red movement') is set to hold a demonstration at the Bedford Street headquarters of the Department for Communities.

The ‘Bursaries not Boilers’ demonstration – contrasting the £50,000 cost of the Liofa scheme with a potential £490m bill for the RHI fiasco – is the “first in a long line of protests” planned by the group, who also want an Irish Language Act.

More than 12,000 social media accounts have already adopted a white circle on a red background as a profile image in support of the Irish language.

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