Northern Ireland news

Former culture minister slams decision to cut Gaeltacht bursary as 'hatred of Irish'

The Líofa bursary scheme was set up by former Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, pictured with former Assistant Chief Constable Judith Gillespie. Picture by Brian Thompson/
John Monaghan

A FORMER Sinn Féin arts minister has described as "disgraceful" and "a hatred of Irish" a decision by a government department to withdraw funding for an Irish language bursary scheme.

Around 100 people a year received bursaries from the Líofa Gaeltacht scheme to improve their Irish language skills at classes in the Donegal gaeltacht.

First piloted in 2012, it is understood that the bursaries were worth around £50,000 annually and enabled those on lower incomes to avail of the Gaeltacht experience.

However, the Department for Communities has now decided to withdraw funding, in an email sent from the Líofa office to the boards of the gaeltacht colleges yesterday.

Sent in Irish, its English translation reads: "Because of efficiency savings, the department will not be providing the Líofa bursary scheme in 2017. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year."

The Líofa bursary scheme was set up by former Culture, Arts and Leisure Minister, Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín during her time in office.

Ms Ní Chuilín hit out at the department yesterday in a tweet.

She wrote: "Disgraceful ending @_liofa bursaries for children from deprived communities. Nothing to do with funds, just hatred of Irish #RHIScandal".

BBC Radio Ulster presenter Lynette Fay also expressed her dismay.

She tweeted: "But for a Gaeltacht scholarship, I wouldn't be who I am or where I am today. Awful."

Dr Niall Comer, the president of Comhaltas Uladh, which promotes the Irish language in Ulster, said it was a "blatant act of discrimination".

"Comhaltas Uladh of Conradh na Gaeilge considers this to be quite simply a deliberate and cynical attack on the Irish language, without any justification nor reason," he told the BBC.

"Our summer colleges are cross-community and disadvantaged children from both sides of the community have availed of this scholarship scheme.

"This decision will directly impact on hundreds of Irish language learners, from disadvantaged families across the north."

Mr Comer said that the decision by Communities Minister, the DUP's Paul Givan, "must be contextualised in terms of recent political events, where we have, this week, seen almost half a billion pounds of public money squandered."

He said: "Cutting successful schemes aimed at disadvantaged children from both communities is not the answer."

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