McCausland accused of politicising Irish language

PROMINENT unionist Gaeilgeoir Linda Ervine has accused the DUP's Nelson McCausland of politicising the Irish language in the same manner he claims republicans are guilty of.

Mrs Ervine's comments came after the former culture minister said Sinn Féin was "stepping up its cultural war" through a Department of Education initiative to promote the Irish language in primary schools.

Mr McCausland's outburst came after the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment wrote to primary school principals inviting them to develop an Irish language study programme.

The North Belfast MLA said republicans had "weaponised" the Irish language and wanted to use it to "convince unionists that they are really Irish and Gaelic".

"Having failed to win their terrorist war and with support for the union at an all-time high in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin are now placing more and more emphasis on their cultural war and the Irish language is the main weapon in the republican armoury," Mr McCausland said.

"For Sinn Féin the promotion of the Irish language is ultimately about promoting an Irish identity."

He urged the school authorities to "treat these letters with the contempt they deserve".

The former culture minister will be among a DUP delegation that plans to meet education minister John O'Dowd to discuss the issue on Tuesday. Mr O'Dowd said the DUP MLA's claims were "nonsense" and that the letter was a "routine departmental matter".

"Officials confirmed to me that as part of the normal day-to-day running of the Department of Education, and in engagement with the curriculum advisory body, they sent out a letter to all schools asking them would they be interested in this project," the minister said.

"There is no John O'Dowd agenda, there is no Sinn Féin agenda, there is no other agenda."

Mr McCausland also faced criticism from Irish language campaigner Mrs Ervine, who runs Irish classes in east Belfast.

Mrs Ervine said that on the back of the DUP MLA's comments yesterday she had invited him to the Turas -- Irish for journey -- centre, which is based in the Skainos building on Belfast's Newtownards Road.

She said that while the former Stor-mont minister had yet to accept the invite, he had not refused and "appeared interested".

But Mrs Ervine was critical of Mr McCausland over his latest comments

"Nelson McCausland is constantly accusing Sinn Féin of politicising the Irish language but he's doing the very thing he claims others are doing," she said.

Mrs Ervine said there was "nothing new" in the initiative referred to in the letter to principals.

"It's a nonsense for him to claim that this is something new because I have been involved with several schools who have embraced this initiative," she said.

"It's similar to the way Ulster Scots is promoted but I don't see Sinn Féin or the SDLP jumping up and down."

* PROBE: An Droichead has teamed up with Seachtain na Gaeilge and Conradh na Gaeilge to host a gala dinner in Belfast during the annual Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish language Week) celebrations. Pictured are Claire Kieran, An Droichead, Linda Ervine East Belfast Mission, Pol Deeds An Droichead, Dr Frank Costello Building Communitys Trust, Fionnuala Nic Thom An Droichead. Inset, Nelson McCausland and John O'Dowd MAIN PICTURE: Mal McCann