Proposals to establish an Irish Language Bursary  and a Financial Assistance Scheme for the Irish Language sector were passed despite some resistance at Thursdays meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council's Strategy, Policy and Resources meeting in Downpatrick.

Heated Debate

Cllr Barra Ó Muirí explained how repeated efforts were made to have Unionist representation on the Working Group in charge of the proposals, to no avail. He called for mutual respect and understanding for the language, “The Irish language has no political persuasion. It is neither green nor orange and the aim of every member of the Council should be to promote equality within our District. I hope these plans are recognised by all as being the intent of this council to provide increased opportunities for all residents of our District, young and old, to access and afford Irish language courses from now on.”

Cllr William Walker said that he or his party couldn't support the proposal as it was stand alone and came from the Irish Language Working Group. Cllr Walker asked why the proposers couldn't have come back with a minority language strategy instead that could have included other minority languages.

An Irish Language campaign at Newry Town Hall earlier this year. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
An Irish Language campaign at Newry Town Hall earlier this year. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cllr Henry Reilly mentioned the Irish derivation of his name Ó Raghallaigh and spoke of his great interest in Gaelic culture and the Irish Language but suggested money wouldn't improve the image of the Irish Language "I can promise you, you can spend £390k and you would not improve the image of the Irish Language" adding "Not when Protestants feel they can't get a job in this council"

Cllr Pete Byrne thought Cllr Reilly's comments on Protestants and jobs in the council was "Outrageous"

Councillor Robert Burgess lamented Gaelic becoming a political football and spoke of Presbyterians keeping the Irish Language alive but "once we see Sinn Fein and the nationalist community hijacking it, Presbyterians have walked away."

Cllr Andrew McMurray said that he was a Presbyterian and would be supporting the proposals.

Cllr Michael Savage in his support for the proposals said we should look at how we can increase the celebration of the language with the wider community.

Cllr Cadogan Enright thought the proposal was three years overdue and that other funding schemes had been for Christmas trees, summer schemes, environmental projects but not specificall for Irish Language promotion.

Cllr Davy Hyland spoke of the council being a Bilingual council and thus "our duty to promote the Irish Language"

The Scheme

The Bursary Scheme would assist individuals to improve Irish Language skills through providing scholarships or bursaries for accredited Irish language courses, including Gaeltacht colleges, intensive courses and third level courses.

Parents or guardians will be able to apply for scholarships or bursaries for young people to attend Gaeltacht courses up to 50% of total fees up to a maximum of £300.

The Financial Assistance Scheme will have two specific themes:

1:Irish language community renewal and development

2: Positively engaging the Irish language.

The first will provide an open call for projects/initiatives that encourage Irish language community capacity building, mentoring and volunteering. The second will be an open call for community engagement projects/ initiatives to build positive relations, address perceptions and promote respect for the Irish language.

The proposal is now subject to full council ratification at it's monthly meeting 4 December.


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