TUV leader Jim Allister has claimed the DUP is in “concession mode” to Sinn Fein, after the communities minister performed a dramatic U-turn on funding for an Irish language scheme.
A bitter row erupted between Sinn Fein and the DUP following Communities Minister Paul Givan’s decision to cut a £50,000 bursary to pay for children to visit gaelic speaking communities.
The move was seen as a key factor in Sinn Fein’s decision to pull the plug on the power-sharing institu tions at Stormont.
But in a shocking development yesterday, Mr Givan announced he had now found the money for the programme.
The sudden reversal has been interpreted by some as a DUP olive branch to Sinn Fein as devolution teeters on the brink.
Mr Allister branded the move a “humiliating climbdown” on the DUP’s part and claimed the party was now in “concession mode”.
And SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the restoration of the Liofa funding showed the DUP was “desperate to avoid an election”.
On BBC Talkback yesterday, DUP MP Gregory Campbell was asked if the DUP was “reaching out the olive branch and demonstrating humility towards Sinn Fein” by restoring the Liofa bursaries.
Mr Campbell responded: “You have made the mistake, which other people have made in the past, and that is associating the Irish language with Sinn Fein.
“This has nothing to do with olive branches.”
He said Mr Givan was looking to see how much savings he could make in departments which are “stretched”.
“He is looking at a series of situations where money might be clawed back to be spent elsewhere. This (Liofa) is just one example,” Mr Campbell added.
Mr Allister said the minister’s decision to reinstate Liofa funding demonstrated that “when the pressure is really on they (the DUP) will concede to republicans”.
The North Antrim MLA added: “Why was the money not there before Christmas but suddenly available when the DUP are desperate to avoid an election? Did he find it down the back of a boiler?
“Sinn Fein/IRA demanded that the money be found and the DUP duly delivered. What else will they roll over on after an election to get their jobs back? An Irish Language Act? The Maze? Allowing Sinn Fein/IRA to rewrite the past?”
Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff said Mr Givan had been forced to reverse a “disgraceful decision” due to “public outrage”.
“The decision to cut the Liofa bursary of £50,000 for disadvantaged children was disgraceful,” he said.
“While this reversal is welcome, it is a decision that should never have been taken.
“The DUP has demonstrated contempt for the Irish language and that must change.
“The rights of the Irish language speakers need to be recognised and respected.”
Alliance councillor Emmet McDonough-Brown said while the restoration of Irish language funding is welcome, he claimed the decision “looks more desperate than decent”.
The South Belfast representative added that the U-turn on Liofa must not be allowed to distract from the DUP’s pledge to hold a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.
He added: “The cost of Liofa is less than a day’s worth of subsidy in that (RHI) scandal and it is vital we continue to hold them to account.”
When asked by the News Letter why Mr Givan had made a U-turn over the Liofa funding, a spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: “The initial announcement that this funding was under threat was taken because of financial pressures within the department and not related to any political developments.
“Because funds have become available within the Department for Communities it has been possible to reinstate the bursary scheme.
“The Department for Communities has brought forward a range of schemes since May including reinstatement of the Marching Bands scheme and funding for community halls.”
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 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.