DUP minister makes U-turn on Irish language funding

DUP minister Paul Givan, who has reversed his controversial decision to cut an Irish language initiative in the midst of Stormont's eco-boiler scandal. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

DUP minister Paul Givan, who has reversed his controversial decision to cut an Irish language initiative in the midst of Stormont's eco-boiler scandal. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A DUP minister has reversed his controversial decision to cut an Irish language initiative in the midst of Stormont’s eco-boiler scandal.

Communities Minister Paul Givan’s decision to cut a £50,000 bursary to pay for children to visit gaelic speaking communities - the Gaeltacht - infuriated Sinn Fein and has been seen as a key factor in the republican party’s decision to pull the plug on the power-sharing institutions.

In a tweet on Thursday morning, Mr Givan said: “My decision on the Liofa Bursary Scheme was not a political decision.

“I have now identified the necessary funding to advance this scheme.”

The shock development has been interpreted by some as a DUP olive branch to Sinn Fein as devolution teeters on the brink.

While the looming collapse of the ruling executive was triggered by the renewable heat incentive (RHI) affair - a green heating scandal that has left Stormont with a £490 million bill - other disputes between the two main parties have been reignited by the furore.

One was the Irish language.

Sinn Fein cited DUP “disrespect” toward the language as one of the main reasons they had walked away.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams branded Mr Givan an “ignoramus” for his original decision to cut the bursary.

The move came as Alliance Party leader Naomi Long claimed the DUP had approached a party colleague and asked them to join lobbying of Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to postpone calling a snap election.

“They simply asked if we would be willing to work on a cross-party basis to request to the Secretary of State that, rather than have an election, he suspend the institutions so we could have talks,” she said.

Martin McGuinness’s decision to resign as deputy first minister on Monday lit the fuse on Stormont’s implosion. His departure forced DUP leader Arlene Foster from her role as first minister and triggered a procedural chain of events that will end with the calling of an election on Monday, if Sinn Fein does not reappoint a deputy first minister by then.

After Monday’s meltdown, the DUP and Sinn Fein had also been at odds on whether mitigation payments to support households losing out under the Government’s so-called “bedroom tax” could be paid.

Mr Givan claimed they could not without the approval of the now paralysed executive, but Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir insisted Mr Givan did have the authority.

In another tweet on Thursday, Mr Givan said: “Continuing to work with officials on finding a solution on bedroom tax.”