This week’s vote for an Irish language officer at Belfast City Council is linked to the vote in 2012 to remove the Union Flag from city hall, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.
He said: “I’ve nothing against people learning a language but the special place demanded for Irish, and the ocean of public money demanded for it, is not only totally unreasonable but part of the republican agenda to remove the British identity of Northern Ireland.
“There is a direct link between this decision at city hall and the decision a few years ago to remove the Union Flag from the building.”
Belfast councillors voted on Tuesday to put the role of an Irish language officer out to consultation. Unionists opposed the motion while SF, Alliance, SDLP and People Before Profit supported it.
Mr Allister said: “This is but the latest manifestation of Sinn Fein’s aggressive policy of pushing the Irish language and the Alliance Party’s complicity with the same.
“Bad as it is the £39,000 annual cost will be a drop in the ocean should a fully fledged Irish language act be foisted upon Northern Ireland.”
Belfast UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey spent five years in the early 1990s promoting the Irish language, but said he could not support a Sinn Fein motion attempting to use it as a political weapon.
He said: “When I travelled all over Ireland talking about the Irish language from a unionist perspective I got a tremendous response. A lot of people were very unhappy with Sinn Fein for trying to politicise it.
“I think attitudes to the Irish language have improved but we need to see it promoted in a politically neutral way. Unionists have once again let Sinn Fein set the agenda.
“Arlene is now listening to Irish language groups, what I was doing 25 years ago.
“For those of us who actually see a value in the Irish language, we’ve got to see if we can bring it forward.
“The Irish language should be something that unites us, not divides us.”
He said the Alliance Party’s support of the motion was an attempt to attract more nationalist votes.
Reacting immediately after the vote, DUP councillor Lee Reynolds called it a “love in” between Alliance and SF.
An Alliance spokesperson said the party backed its “long-standing policy” when it supported council’s plans for an updated language policy.
They added: “Our best future is one where politicians work for everyone, not just one section of our community, and while others want to ignore the positives of this policy for their own gain, Alliance continues to make its own decisions, aiming to build a welcoming, inclusive diverse city.”
Belfast’s Irish language officer would be treated as a principal officer receiving between £29,323 and £39,177 per year.
Newry, Mourne and Down District has three staff members in its Irish language unit.
Its Irish language development officer falls into the £29,323 and £31,601 principal officer grade.
The unit also has a community liaison officer and administrative assistant.