Unionists query ‘absurd’ £19m cost of Irish language act for NI

Members of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) with staff and pupils from Gaelscoil An Tsli Dala in Co Laois
Members of Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) with staff and pupils from Gaelscoil An Tsli Dala in Co Laois

Unionists have branded projected costs for an Irish language act “absurd” and accused Sinn Fein of having “poisoned the well” over the debate.

Conradh na Gaeilge (CNG) – or the Gaelic League – has published estimates of how much the act would cost in the wake of a tense dispute between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

The proposals cover the official status of the language; Irish in the Assembly, local government, the BBC, the Department of Education as well as the role of a language commissioner and place-names.

CNG says the cost would be £19m for the five-year introductory phase. The proposals would facilitate individuals giving evidence in court in Irish and make all road signs bilingual.

CNG president Dr Niall Comer said five parties and 50 MLAs support protective legislation for Irish and called on the parties to support the proposals “as recently recommended by both the Council of Europe and the United Nations, and as was promised over 10 years ago in the St Andrews Agreement”.

But former DUP culture minister Nelson McCausland said the estimates were “absurd” and that Welsh language output costs £75m to the BBC each year.

CNG said the proposed Irish language commissioner would not have a role in relation to universities “at this point”, but this phrase “makes clear that there are more demands to come”.

Experience elsewhere suggests that ultimately, activists will want to have Irish language rights in the private sector also, Mr McCausland added.

The proposed BBC NI Irish budget of £10m, he said, would “decimate” its English-language output.

The overall projected £19m costs exclude both the proposed BBC NI costs and Department of Education spending, he added.

CNG said BBC NI costs are met by a Westminster fund.

UUP chairman Lord Empey acknowledged that there are those “who love and cherish the Irish language” but added that the UUP never endorsed proposals for an act which emerged after the St Andrews deal.

“It’s not so long ago that the following phrase was used – ‘Every word spoken in Irish is another bullet fired in the war against British Imperialism’,” he said.

“This type of comment from republicans has poisoned the well and is irresponsible.”

Irish should be protected under the UK Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, but the UUP “do not want to see a politically driven agenda to further divide our community” he added.