Sinn Féin minister describes Irish language funding restoration as 'too little, too late'

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said that Mr Givan's move was "too little, too late"
John Monaghan

A SINN Féin minister has described Paul Givan's decision to re-instate an Irish language bursary scheme as "too little, too late."

Michelle O'Neill, the health minister, dismissed the move by the communities minister, hours after he had tweeted his intention to reverse the funding cut.

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

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

It was interpreted as an olive branch to Sinn Féin after Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness resigned on Monday, citing the cut amongst the reasons his party was withdrawing from coalition government with the DUP.

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, the finance minister, has said the scrapping of the scheme was the "straw that broke the camel's back".

The Department for Communities, which normally issues statements and decisions on behalf of the minister to the media, did not follow Mr Givan's tweet with an official announcement that funding was restored.

Mr Givan sparked outrage after scrapping the Líofa scheme, which enabled around 100 people a year to attend the Donegal gaeltacht with bursary help totalling £50,000, in an email announcement two days before Christmas.

Janet Muller, director of Irish language group POBAL, said: "This is a victory for the children and adults who need these bursaraies to go to the Gaeltacht to study. But it is not enough.

"Irish speakers are in strength yet again and calling for no return to government without the Irish Language Act. We must not be let down again."

Alliance leader and East Belfast MLA Naomi Long described the original decision as "petty swipes that have taken Assembly to brink".

Green Party deputy leader Claire Bailey tweeted: "So Communities Minister has just found £50k down the back of the sofa to give back to fund Irish language bursaries. I want that #DUP sofa!"

TUV leader Jim Allister said the announcement was a "humiliating climbdown" by the DUP, while the Ulster Unionists accused the DUP of being "in complete U-turn mode".

UUP MLA Philip Smith said: "Arlene Foster's reverse on a public inquiry came too little too late. Paul Givan's U-turn on the Líofa funding was necessary to reverse a thoughtless decision that should never have been taken in the first place.

"Furthermore, Simon Hamilton's eventual realisation that the RHI costs needed capping demonstrates the disarray within the DUP and their utter desperation to avoid an election."

SDLP Irish language spokesman Patsy McGlone MLA said: "The minister's sudden and unexplained U-turn will confirm for many that his decision was a ham-fisted attempt at political positioning.

"The DUP are positioning themselves to fight a campaign based on division and tribalism. They cannot be allowed to turn this into another orange and green election."

Solicitor Michael Brentnall, who was taking legal action on the initial scrapping of the scheme on behalf of a single mother who wished to send her child to the Gaeltacht, said his client's position had been "vindicated" by Mr Givan's decision.

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