UUP Alderman Derek Hussey has expressed bewilderment at a proposed 48 per cent increase in funding for Irish language groups.
The Derg Area Councillor was speaking after the Sinn Féin Culture Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín, announced she was significantly increasing the number and size of grants within the new Irish Language Community Scheme via North South funding.
He questioned why the language was enjoying funding increases when other public bodies are facing cuts.
“Most Departments and public bodies have been told that they will be facing further spending cuts next year. Within DSD alone, for example core business areas such as housing, Child Maintenance Allowance and the Social Security Agency are being asked to prepare for cuts of at least five per cent, possibly even up to 10 per cent.
“Within such a scenario it is surely disgraceful that our present DCAL Minister can announce that the revised Irish Language Community Scheme will increase the number of grants offered from 19 to 26 and the grant maximum rising from 37,000 to 40,000 euros.
“As the Northern Ireland Assembly restructures after the next Assembly Election in May, a new Department for Communities is to be created and it is proposed that it will encompass Employment and Social Security, the Child Maintenance Service, Housing, existing Art, Culture & Leisure responsibilities, Community Cohesion and Regeneration together with North South bodies wherein preemptive funding has now been committed by the Minister.
“The obvious challenges of such fundamental reform will be difficult enough without having to deliver more with less funds available, not least because of ludicrous pre-Budget commitments.”
He said the Comprehensive Spending Review is leading to reduced services.
“With the CSR and tightening of the Block Grant, potential reductions to key public services seem inevitable. These are those very services that assist individuals in need of support and wider disadvantaged communities.
“Care must surely be taken to minimise the impact of cuts on such vulnerable individuals and communities. Those vulnerable individuals and communities that the Minister’s own Party would claim to represent.”
Alderman Hussey added: “Given that discussions on the Assembly’s next financial year budget have just commenced and that a Programme for Government in the new Assembly, to be elected in May, cannot be agreed until after that Election, the UUP is, to say the least, shocked that the present DCAL Minister, in advance of the Budget outcomes and PfG agreement, has approved a massive increase of up to 48 per cent in the Irish Language Community Scheme, which will now run to over a million euros a year.”