State Papers

Withdrawal of funding from Irish language group 'sparked huge row'

Secretary of State Sir Peter Brooke agreed in 1990 that funding should be withdrawn from an Irish language group based in west Belfast. Picture from Pacemaker
Dr Éamon Phoenix

THE withdrawal of funding from Irish language group Glór na nGael in 1990 was condemned by everyone from the Irish government and the Catholic Church to Protestant speakers, newly-released state papers show.

In a memo to Secretary of State Sir Peter Brooke, an official from the Stormont Central Secretariat highlighted fears that the group, based in west Belfast, was linked to republican paramilitaries.

Under government policy, funding was denied to groups when there was a risk of furthering the aims of a paramilitary organisation.

The official highlighted "a worsening degree of paramilitary involvement and influence" among Glor na nGael's management committee following recent staffing changes.

Sir Peter's private secretary Stephen Pope said in July 1990 that the Secretary of State was content that British government funding should be withdrawn.

Declan O’Donovan, head of the Irish Section of the Anglo-Irish Secretariat, later raised concerns that the Irish government was not consulted.

An NIO official noted that Mr O’Donovan "frankly doubted that the money was being misappropriated" and denied that the organisation’s co-ordinators had any Sinn Féin links.

Following the decision to withdraw funding, the NIO received dozens of letters, including from then Bishop Cahal Daly in September 1990 who described the move as a "propaganda opportunity (for Sinn Féin) at a time when their credibility was at a low ebb".

He said the group had been founded by Cumann na Sagart, a highly respected organisation of Irish-speaking priests.

And he added that, according to priests working in west Belfast, Glór na nGael had taken steps "to purge itself of members or influences... with Sinn Féin or paramilitary associations".

Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes expressed his "astonishment" at the move, while Dr Maurice Hayes and Dr James Hawthorne from the Community Relations Council felt the decision would seriously compromise their organisation's work.

By October 1990, NIO minister Richard Needham had voiced concerns, telling Sir Peter in a memo that it had caused serious damage to "our relationships with the community".

He hoped it might be possible to restore funding to Glór na nGael if satisfactory changes could be made to the west Belfast committee.

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