Legal action to be launched over scrapping of Irish language bursary scheme

Communities minister Paul Givan has withdrawn funding to make 'efficiency savings'.
By Connla Young and Gareth McKeown

A decision by communities minister Paul Givan to scrap an Irish language bursary scheme is set to be challenged through the courts.

Nationalists have reacted angrily after the DUP minister announced that Líofa scheme is set to be ended.

The minister said he was withdrawing funding for the £50,000 scheme due to "efficiency savings".

First piloted in 2012, it enabled those on lower incomes to improve their Irish language skills at classes in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

A legal challenge to the decision is being taken by a Co Antrim woman whose daughter has attended the Gaeltacht with the help of funding from the scheme.

Solicitor Michael Brentnall, who represents the single mother, last night said the decision to bin the bursary amounts to discrimination.

“Our client is challenging the decision of the minister on the basis that the decision amounts to a breach of our client’s human rights, a breach of EU law, it is discriminatory and moreover, it is motivated by an improper political motive, namely the undermining the Irish language as a medium of communication in this jurisdiction,” he said.

Irish language umbrella organisation Pobal has said it is “taking advice” on the issue.

Director Janet Muller said the organisation was shocked by the decision.

"The issue is there have been a number of decisions from the change of ministers a number of months ago, across a number of departments, so we have been researching the background to those decisions according to the departments and ministers in question and looking at the best action that can be taken," she said.

"Yes we were shocked and disappointed (at the removal of Líofa), but it was not unexpected as it fits in with what appears to be a pattern of behaviour from certain ministers. It's very difficult for people not to feel anything other than these decisions are being determined on a sectarian basis," she added.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll accused the DUP of engaging in “sectarian deflection”.

“Rather than address the problems of how we claw back the £500 million from RHI, or restore confidence in an executive devoid of all credibility, Givan has launched a petty attack on the Irish language community,” he said.

Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin have also criticised the decision.

In April last year Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge took legal action against the executive over the implementation of its Irish language strategy.

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