Jim Allister: Redirect Irish language money to health

By Michael McHugh, PA

“Extravagant” Irish language funding should be redirected to health following disappointment over the British Government’s financial package, a critic of Northern Ireland powersharing has said.

Assembly member Jim Allister accused Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists of “spectacularly bungling” pre-agreement negotiations by failing to nail down the money issue.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the extra £1 billion from the Treasury to support restored devolution was an act of bad faith.

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Mr Allister said: “With the Executive parties having spectacularly bungled the pre-agreement negotiations by failing to nail down the money issue, it would be absurd to squander still-scarce resources on vanity projects like needless Irish language infrastructure and enhancement.

“Where is the money going to come from for all the extravagant provision that is planned, but by having less money for real needs in health and education?

“In these circumstances, money intended for an Irish language commissioner and one in the Ulster Scots field, along with their teams of staff etc, would be far better spent on more nurses and doctors. But, no, for some the Irish language is more important.”

Measures enshrining the place of the Irish language in society were central to Sinn Fein’s decision to re-enter powersharing.

They include provision for translation and a commissioner to help champion the language.

Stormont has already pledged an extra £30 million from within existing resources in a bid to end a nurses’ strike which has paralysed the health service.

Backdated rises for teachers and steps to improve the country’s creaking infrastructure could make significant dents in the British Government’s extra cash.

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has urged the Northern Ireland parties to get on with the process of repairing public services and defended the funding allocation.

It included “a rapid injection of £550 million to put the Executive’s finances on a sustainable footing”, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said.

That included £200 million to end the nurses’ pay dispute.

The Government said the package will be accompanied by “stringent” conditions contained within the Stormont deal, around accountability for public spending and the development of sustainable public services.

Mr Allister said: “When the Stormont parties bulldoze on with this language nonsense and squander money needed elsewhere, then let it not be said they were not called out on their folly.”