Irish language debate raises NMDC equality doubts

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Irish language debate raises NMDC equality doubts thumbnail Independent Councillor Henry Reilly

"PROTESTANTS feel they can't get a job" with Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDC).

Independent Councillor Henry Reilly made the claim at Thursday's Strategy Policy and Resources Committee meeting during a debate regarding the establishment of an Irish Language Bursary and Financial Assistance Scheme.

The committee was asked to discuss a report from the Irish Language Strategy Cross Party Working Group, which raised the matter of establishing a financial assistance funding stream for the Irish language sector for the 2018/19 financial year.

The purpose of the bursary scheme is to assist in improving Irish language skills through providing scholarships or bursaries for accredited Irish language courses, including Gaeltacht colleges, intensive courses and third level courses.

Meanwhile, the Financial Assistance Scheme will assist in Irish language community renewal and development, and positively engaging the language within the community.

Slieve Gullion Councillor Barra Ó Muirí said that the purpose of the scheme is to help create "positive respect" for the language and making it more accessible to the community.

"We have spent 18 months providing a plan to provide resources for Irish language speakers," explained the Sinn Fein representative.

"There is nothing nationalist or republican about the language. It's their language.

"We feel we still have a fair way to go. We don't want to produce numbers out of the sky so we wanted to see how successful other councils were."

Councillor Ó Muirí went on to say that Ulster-Scots will be promoted within the scheme and said the budget of the bursary has been set at £30,000, which is "in line with expenditure from other councils".

"This is a strategy for all residents of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council," he added.

Opposing the scheme, Councillor Reilly said he was "very concerned" about the money that would be spent and accused the council of not treating the unionist community with the same "equality, priority or esteem" as the nationalist community.

"You could spend £300,000 and that would not improve the image of Irish language in the unionist community," stated the Independent Mournes councillor.

"When this council was set up we had a group putting £4,000 into the Ulster-Scots but that was taken away.

"Protestants feel that they can't get a job in the council. They feel it represents Sinn Fein and their policies.

"It cost £350,000 for St Patrick's Day and this £80,000 [for the Irish Language Bursary Scheme] is on top of money spent on Irish language.

"We tried to get £5,000 to £10,000 for Ulster-Scots and we were told 'no, that's not happening'."

Rowallane's DUP Councillor William Walker said he could not support the proposal on the grounds that it is "stand alone" and because it came from the Irish Language Strategy Cross Party Working Group.

He suggested that Ulster-Scots should have been included in the scheme and it could have been called a minority languages bursary.

"The cost could rise to £130,000 and the people footing the bill are the ratepayers," he said.

"Why could the group not come back with a minority language bursary? It could have included Ulster-Scots, Polish or Bulgarian.

"Everybody has been excluded from this apart from Irish speakers."

Newry's SDLP Councillor Michael Savage, who was supporting the motion, said that the council must look at how to "increase" the Irish language in the community but added that there was a need to look at minority languages.

Ulster Unionist Councillor Robert Burgess said that "this is a very said night for this council".

"For years the Presbyterians kept this language going," continued the Rowallane councillor.

"Once we saw Sinn Fein and nationalist people hijack it, we have saw Presbyterians walk away.

"I am totally against it and so is my party. It's a very sad night that this council is using the language as a football."

Following a vote, the proposal was passed and will now go before the full council on Monday, December 4.

We put Councillor Reilly's comments to the council and an NMDC spokesperson said: "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council notes that the media enquiry refers to comments made by a councillor during discussion on a particular item at the Strategy Policy and Resources Committee meeting on November 16, 2017.

"The council is unable to provide comment until the report and recommendations are adopted at the monthly meeting on December 4, 2017 [and following the lapse of the five day call-in period]."


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