Northern Ireland news

Irish Language Act 'would cost £3.5 million per year'

Sinn Féin supporters at Stormont yesterday. Picture by Mal McCann
Paul Ainsworth

AN Irish language act could operate in Northern Ireland for just £3.5 million a year, Sinn Féin has said.

The first formal estimate for Irish language rights is considerably less that the DUP's warning that it could cost the taxpayer up to £100m annually.

The Irish Language Act has become a key issue in the election campaign after the DUP cut a small grant to send children to the gaeltacht and Arlene Foster compared campaigners to crocodiles. The former first minister also said that legislation to provide Polish translations would be more appropriate.

Finance minister Mairtín Ó Muilleoir yesterday said he spoke with counterpart ministers in Scotland and Wales about the costs involved in implementing similar acts. He said the cost would be the same as "about 35 days of the RHI waste and squander".

This is the first time Sinn Féin has provided an estimate, with the party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill saying this month it would be "pretty hard to cost".

Mr O'Muilleoir described the DUP's estimate as "from Pluto."

"If you really believe that the DUP's objection to an Irish language act is cost, then you really need to sit down and reflect on their opposition to the Irish language," he told the BBC.

Responding to Mr Ó Muilleoir's figure, the DUP's Nelson McCausland accused him of grabbing it "out of thin air".

He told the Irish News: "One small council area alone in Wales had a bill of three quarters of a million pounds for their act – we have 11 larger council areas, so how does the minister think this will cost only £3.5m for Northern Ireland as a whole?

"When Caral Ní Chuilín costed an Act, she was unable or unwilling to reveal a figure. It looks like the minister is pulling this figure out of thin air."

An Alliance Party spokesman said a Programme for Government should form the basis of an Act, adding: "We are open to negotiation with other parties about precisely what should be contained in this legislation and its cost."

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone said his party was on the record saying that depending on whether the Act was rights based or a scheme based "it could cost under £5m".

"The outrageous exaggerations from the DUP are nothing but misinformation aimed at using the Irish language as a political football in their divisive campaign," he said.

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Northern Ireland news