Nelson McCausland says schools letter 'weaponised Irish language'
A letter inviting primary schools to develop an Irish language study programme shows how Sinn Féin has "weaponised" the Irish language, DUP MLA Nelson McCausland has said.
Mr McCausland said Sinn Féin was "stepping up its cultural war".
Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd, who is Stormont education minister, said Mr McCausland's claims were "nonsense".
Mr O'Dowd said he had no personal involvement with the letter.
"It was a routine departmental matter until Nelson released his rant," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback programme.
"Officials confirmed to me that as part of the normal day-to-day running of the Department of Education, and in engagement with the curriculum advisory body, they sent out a letter to all schools asking them would they be interested in this project.
"There is no John O'Dowd agenda, there is no Sinn Féin agenda, there is no other agenda."
Mr McCausland told the BBC he had issued his press statement after being contacted by a number of school principals who raised their concerns with him.
"Principals feel very nervous about dealing with something like this because at the end of the day, he who pays the piper calls the tune, and if you've got a bid in for development for your school, you're not going to go out of your way to offend the education minister," he said.
Mr O'Dowd said this was "complete rubbish", and said Mr McCausland had used "disturbing language" in his statement.
"He's attempting to intimidate schools in unionist communities away from this project, and that's his agenda," he said.
Mr McCausland, who is a former Stormont culture minister, defended the wording of his statement.
"We are familiar with their phrase about every word spoken in Irish being another bullet in the freedom struggle, and they also referred on one occasion to the terrorist war being the peak of the cultural revival," he told the BBC.
"I think the language that I used was simply borrowed from Sinn Féin's own language."
The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment said it had written on behalf of the Department of Education to non-Irish medium primary schools "to explore the feasibility of developing a programme of support for the teaching of Irish and aspects of a shared cultural heritage".
"This followed a previous survey which showed interest from a number of non-Irish medium primary schools in developing this area of their curriculum.
"The decision to engage in such a programme is a matter for individual schools, led by the support of governors and teachers, in line with their guiding ethos. Such a programme would only be taken forward by CCEA based on demand and available funding."