Councillors clash over Irish language funding

Irish language act campaigners, including pupils from Irish-medium schools across Northern Ireland, take part in a protest at Stormont parliament buildings in Belfast this month, ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Irish language act campaigners, including pupils from Irish-medium schools across Northern Ireland, take part in a protest at Stormont parliament buildings in Belfast this month, ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Unionists and nationalist councillors have clashed at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council in a row over funding an Irish language event.

On Monday night the council voted not to give 25% funding towards an event to be organised by Irish language group Chonradh na Gaeilge, to mark Irish Language Week in early March.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP accused the local authority of political bias, but the DUP said organisers failed to attend a meeting with council officials and so it made sense to refer it to the council grants scheme. The council already organises an annual Irish Language Week event , the DUP added.

Sinn Fein councillor Patrice Hardy said the council has only spent £335 on Irish culture in the past four years.

“Mid & East Antrim Council is continually presenting itself as anti-Irish to the core,” she added.

Her comments were echoed by SDLP Councillor Declan O’Loan, who said the proposed event would have focused on local contributions to the Irish language.

He said the DUP supported a TUV proposal for organisers to apply to the council grants scheme instead, which won by 20 votes to 14; it was opposed by the SDLP, Sinn Fein, UUP and Alliance, he said.

“That the DUP could vote this way at this critical moment in the Stormont talks, when a key issue for nationalists is whether they actually have any respect for Irish culture, language and history, is shocking,” he added.

However DUP councillor Billy Ashe said the proposal to fund an event organised by Chonradh na Gaeilge could not be progressed because the group did not turn up to a planned meeting with council officials, and did not send any apologies.

“Therefore we signposted them towards the council grants scheme, like any other group,” he said.

The council hosted an event for Irish language speakers last year and plans to do so again this year, he said.

A council spokeswoman said it had noted correspondence from Conradh na Gaeilge and councillors agreed to signpost it to the council’s grants scheme, which supports a wide range of community initiatives.

“The mayor is committed to hosting an event to mark Irish Language Week in Mid and East Antrim, similar to last year’s event,” she added.

But UUP councillor Stephen Nicholl said the DUP-TUV decision meant that any grant given to Chonradh na Gaeilge would now be 100% ratepayer funded. The alternative would have seen any event funded 75% by central government, he added.