University Minister Dr Stephen Farry has wondered aloud what Sinn Féin and the SDLP want after two eastern MLAs complained about the Ulster University’s decision to consolidate its full-time Irish language provision at Magee.
SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley, queried the rationale behind the termination of the full-time Irish BA degree at Belfast and the consolidation of that provision in Londonderry.
West Belfast MLA Pat Sheahan also criticised the move.He asked if “Belfast’s reputation as the Irish language capital of Ireland has been built on the phenomenal foundation of Ulster University in York Street? Does he accept that it is a blow to the city and its reputation for this course to have been ended?”
But Dr Farry suggested both eastern MLAs were out-of-time with their colleagues in the North West, having experienced first hand, the clamour for university expansion in Londonderry.
“It is important to clarify that the course has not been ended: the university hassought to consolidate its full-time provision in the Irish language at the Magee campus in Derry,” he said.
“Without wishing to intrude on internal Sinn Féin politics, I was under the impression that people were keen to see the expansion of the university at Magee and certainly to build up Magee’s impact in taking forward a number of courses. Obviously, Magee is not that far from Belfast, and, as we expect students to travel to Magee for a range of other courses, particularly as courses are consolidated, the provision for Irish language should not be any different. It would be nice, of course, to have a situation in which the full-time provision was available in Belfast and Derry, and the Member will be fully aware of the context in which the decisions have been taken: cuts to the higher education budget,” the Minister remarked.
He did, however, express hope full-time provision could be restored in future.
“In the context of an improved situation, I hope that the university’s approach could be reconsidered, and we could see the restoration of some full-time provision in Irish language in Belfast. As we look to the development of a Gaeltacht quarter in Belfast, for example, a certain logic and synergy could be developed. I certainly would not be disparaging about the fact that course provision is going to Derry, and I encourage the Member to recognise the difficult decisions that the university has been taking and the fact that it has, in the main, preserved Irish language provision overall,” he said.