Councillors in Newry Mourne and Down discussed providing support for a bursary for those seeking to go to a Gaeltacht in Donegal.
The bursaries to cover 50% of course fees up to a maximum of £300 were to attend Irish language courses, Gaeltacht Colleges and Third Level study.
The Irish Irish Language Unit in the Council, which has been assigned the responsibility of implementing such bursary schemes, views this scheme as an opportunity to build on the Council’s Bilingualism Policy, audit of Irish language provision in the Newry Mourne and Down District Council area and the Irish Language Strategy 2017-19.
However, the discussion in the Council chamber received a number of speakers much opposed to the Council official’s recommendation that the Council support a limited bursary scheme for people to participate in the Gaeltacht in Donegal.
Councillor Billy Walker said: “I oppose this recommendation. I am not anti-Irish. I was at a meeting last week and I am supporting a twinning initiative with Ballynahinch and a town in the South of Ireland. There will no doubt be an Irish language dimension as we bring in Irish speakers in this but I am supporting this for the right reasons. I am therefore opposed to money from this council being set aside for the Irish language.”
Councillor Cadogan Enright said: “English will probably no longer after Brexit be the working language of the EU, but Irish will be one of those languages. Therefore it makes sense to recognise the importance of the Irish language. We do need a minority language act for this.”
Councillor Robert Burgess said: “I too am not opposed to the Irish language. But when a disabled person can’t find a public toilet to go for a pee in Saintfield because of the toilet situation, there is something fundamentally wrong when we are using ratepayers money for supporting attendance at Gaeltachts. Our ratepayers money is really being spent in a foreign country.”
Councillor Michael Savage supporting the proposal said: “There are disadvantaged areas in Newry where people need the opportunity to learn the Irish language and attend the Gaeltacht for that purpose. Many of these people who would be applying for a grant from the Council are on low incomes. There needs to be some arrangement with the Gaeltacht organisers where they can at least get their costs recovered.”
The proposal will be presented to the next full Council meeting for consideration.
Meanwhile, looking at the wider picture at a Republic of Ireland level, Conradh na Gaeilge, an Irish language lobbying and promotion organisation, welcomes planned investment of €178m investment in the Irish Language and Gaeltacht areas in the National Planning Framework just announced.
Conradh na Gaeilge welcome promises made to invest in the Irish language and Gaeltacht areas in the National Planning Framework in Ireland, which was launched in Sligo this afternoon, but hope to clarify a definite timeline and set of deadlines for new investment.
Significant investment promises have been made to support Gaeltacht Service Towns, Irish Language Networks around the country, that additional support will be provided for children and childcare in Gaeltacht areas, and that Údarás na Gaeltachta’s budget to create employment will be raised from €7m to €12 million. This €12 million investment will create in the region of 1,000 jobs annually, to counteract unemployment and the depopulation of Gaeltacht areas.
Also included is the development of an Irish language and cultural centre in Dublin city, something which is not available yet to the thriving community of Irish speakers in the capital.
Dr Niall Comer, President of Conradh na Gaeilge: “It is a cause for hope that the Government understands the importance of assisting the support, protection and development of the Irish language, and especially the Gaeltacht, for example, the support for childcare.
“The plans to develop Irish Language Centres in Gaeltacht Service Towns and Irish Language Networks are also to be commended. These are suggestions that were made in an investment plan supported by 90 Irish language and Gaeltacht organisations, who deserve credit for the campaigning and hard work they have done to date. Conradh na Gaeilge are looking forward to receiving clarification regarding the timeline over which these plans will be implemented, and we look forward to playing our role alongside the Government to put these plans in place in the near future.”
Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge: “To increase Údarás na Gaeltachta’s budget for the creation of employment to €12 million is a suggestion that has been made and supported by 90 Irish language and Gaeltacht organisations, and politicians over the past number of years.
“Credit is due to these groups for their campaigning and hard work to date, to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and to the Government overall for listening to these requests. We will, however, be expecting a tangible timeline for this increased budget to create employment in the Gaeltacht.”