Northern Ireland news

Former DUP minister Paul Givan believes he is vindicated by Equality Commission report into controversial scrapping of Gaeltacht bursary scheme

Janet Muller, POBAL director said it proves the need for a comprehensive Irish Language Act

FORMER DUP minister Paul Givan has welcomed an Equality Commission report into the scrapping of a Gaeltacht bursary scheme which he says vindicates his position.

The investigation found screening and equality impact assessment were not carried out ahead of funding decisions by the Department for Communities for the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme for 2017 and the controversial Community Halls Pilot Programme.

Former DUP minister Paul Givan provoked anger among Irish language campaigners when he scrapped the Líofa Gaeltacht bursary just days before Christmas 2016. Along with a emerging scandal about RHI, it lead to Sinn Féin walking out of government the following month.

The commission has instructed the department to comply in future and to report on progress within six months.

"At the time there were outrageous claims made, particularly by Sinn Féin representatives, that my decision was discriminatory and now the evidence trail demonstrates completely contrary to all of that. So I want to welcome that finding," he told Good Morning Ulster.

Mr Givan said the advice provided to him at the time was that equality guidelines were not applicable at the time of his decision.

He said he continued the Líofa programme after becoming minister, but the specific bursary scheme was set up seperately in 2012.

"There was no equality impact assessment carried out by the then Sinn Féin minister to establish and support the scheme," he said.

"The Equality Commission has found that actually this bursary programme was flawed in its inception."

The Lagan Valley assembly member said had the process been carried out in a much more "collegiate way... then there wouldn't have been the controversy associated with the scheme".

POBAL, the independent Irish language advocacy organisation, which welcomed the Equality Commission findings, said it proved the need for a comprehensive Irish Language Act.

"It has been clear to us from the outset that this decision was incorrect and inappropriate and the restoration of the funding shortly after its withdrawal shows how indefensible it was," Janet Muller, POBAL director said.

"It poses the question, had the minister been cleverer in covering up the reasoning behind his decision, would he have succeeded in his attack on Irish language funding.

"We welcome the Equality Commission's findings. However, we note that the Commission states that it cannot impose sanctions and this gives some concern about the effectiveness of current measures to deal with inequality and sectarian decision-making at the highest levels.

"It proves once more POBAL's case for a strong Irish language act, based on our expert proposals for legislation which will create clear rights and duties across a wide range of institutions and services."

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