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How the Irish language drove a wedge between Northern Ireland's Assembly

A movement has begun to protest against decisions taken by the Assembly ‘against’ the Irish language.

Image: Sam Boal

DEPUTY FIRST MINISTER Martin McGuinness resigned on Monday after a month of political outrage over the the renewable energy scheme scandal, which could cost the government up to half a billion pounds.

Although there is a lot of talk around First Minister Arlene Foster and the DUP’s ‘arrogance’ over their handling of the botched Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) – the role of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has been becoming an equally tricky issue for Stormont’s two ‘powersharing’ political parties.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Féin’s finance minister and former mayor of Belfast, said on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Cormac ag a Cúig that McGuinness had been left with no alternative but to resign and that his patience had effectively ‘ran out’.

He said that it was because of the level of “disrespect and hate”, they couldn’t stay in government with the DUP, and wouldn’t be returning to the status quo after an election.

Political commentators have suggested that the party is under pressure from its support base to stop compromising with the DUP on core Sinn Féin issues – which led to poor nationalist turn-outs in the last election.

Renewable Heat Initiative allegations Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Although Ó Muilleoir mentioned that Foster had been the ‘architect’ of the RHI scandal that has caused so much controversy, he added that the second reason for the resignation was the DUP’s refusal to engage with policies around the Irish language in the North.

Up until the latest Stormont Assembly with Arlene Foster and McGuinness at the helm, discussions and policies around Irish language policies had been stagnant at worst – with talk around the implementation of an Irish Language Act ongoing (commitment to preserve, develop and promote Irish is part of the Good Friday Agreement).

But recently DUP members had began to implement regressive policies with regard to the Irish language: such as the new Agriculture Minister renaming a boat from the Irish ‘Banraíon Uladh’ to ‘Queen of Ulster’ at a cost of £302, according to Tuairisc.ie.

Last month, the Assembly’s Communities Minister Paul Givan withdrew funding for the Líofa Irish language bursary fund, which was worth about £50,000 per year.

According to the BBC, an email was sent out on the night before Christmas Eve telling employees “Because of efficiency savings, the department will not be providing the Líofa bursary scheme in 2017. Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.”

The fund allowed at least 100 students from disadvantaged areas to attend a Gaeltacht in Co Donegal, and led Gerry Adams to call the move ”an ignorant decision taken by an ignoramus”.

Funding for the expansion of five Irish language schools has been refused by the DUP education minister, saying that ‘demands are being met’ despite some schools seeing an increase in students enrolling.

Previous education minister John O’Dowd of Sinn Féin made moves to refurbish and even open Irish language schools, which caused controversy as it was said that there wasn’t sufficient demand to justify the move when the department had to make cuts of £198 million.

When Peter Weir replaced O’Dowd as education minister in May 2016, he said that there would be ‘no favouritism for Irish language schools’ and called O’Dowd’s promotions of the Irish language an ‘obsession’.

An Dream Dearg

In the wake of these series of moves against the Irish language – arguably aiding An Ghaeilge by stoking up anger – a movement has begun online of Northern Irish citizens who are enraged by what they see as disrespect shown to the Irish language and Irish culture through policy implementation.

Those who support the campaign have changed their profile picture on Twitter to a red icon with a white circle. The protest is called ‘An Dream Dearg’ (The Red Crowd) in an ode to protests in the Republic of Ireland, which ran with the slogan ‘dearg le fearg’ or ‘red with anger’ over what was perceived as unsuitable appointments to government departments dealing with the Irish language.

Some high-profile names have showed their support for ‘An Dream Dearg’ including two boxing competitors from the Rio Olympic Games: Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan.

Tweet by @Conchur Ó Muadaigh Source: Conchur Ó Muadaigh/Twitter

A protest by An Dream Dearg is to take place tomorrow the over the decision to withdraw Líofa’s funding. The protest is to take place outside the Department of Communities in Belfast at 12.30pm.

Read: Arlene Foster calls for investigation into ‘cash for ash’ scandal

Read: Sinn Féin plays down McGuinness health concerns in wake of resignation

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