Department 'failed to comply' with Irish language equality obligations

A Northern Ireland department failed to comply with its equality obligations ahead of a controversial decision on cutting an Irish language bursary, an investigation found.

When Communities Department officials made a submission to then minister Paul Givan in December 2016 for a decision, no equality assessment information was included for the minister's consideration, the Equality Commission said.

Former Stormont deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said the £50,000 reduction by the DUP minister to the Liofa scheme which enabled people to attend Irish classes was one of the reasons he resigned early last year.

Powersharing has still not been restored despite money being found for the scheme at a later date.

Chief commissioner Michael Wardlow said: "The Department should have undertaken screening and equality impact assessment at appropriate times to inform the development and decision making on both the scheme and the programme.

"Our investigation found that this did not happen in either case and the minister was not furnished with appropriate equality assessment information."

The Commission said the Department failed to comply with its equality scheme commitments on screening and equality impact assessment relating to funding decisions for the Liofa Gaeltacht Bursary Scheme for 2017.

The commission also investigated a Community Halls pilot programme which was launched by Mr Givan at an Orange Hall and which Sinn Fein claimed appeared to be directed at one side of the community.

Both concern the distribution of public money based on set criteria and award processes and, in both instances, the funding options presented to the minister for decision should have been informed by an equality assessment against the objectives set for the expenditure, the Commission said.

The Liofa scheme funded at least 100 people a year to attend summer Irish language classes in the Donegal gaeltacht and was established by former Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

Mr Givan had been heavily criticised by republicans over his decision to cut the funding.

Mr Wardlow added: "Our recommendations include the need for the department to take a consistent approach to the identification of policies for the purposes of its equality scheme arrangements; and to ensure that decision makers are presented with appropriate information on the equality implications.

"Any continuation of either funding programme must be informed by equality assessments in the future."

Sinn Fein Assembly member Declan Kearney said the Liofa decision was appalling.

"Similarly, the distribution of community halls funding raised widespread public concern, given that the vast majority of the beneficiaries were from the unionist tradition."

Conradh na Gaeilge Irish language organisation said the cross-community, means-tested Liofa scheme was launched to provide learning opportunities for the most disadvantaged young people.

President Dr Niall Comer said: "The Liofa decision and now the findings from this investigation have highlighted the urgent need for rights-based legislative protection for the Irish-language."

- PA

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