Sinn Fein accused of using Irish language ‘like bullets in fight for Independence’

Independent Unionist Alderman Maurice Devenney. INLS1216-126KM
Independent Unionist Alderman Maurice Devenney. INLS1216-126KM

A Unionist Councillor in Londonderry has claimed every word spoken in the Irish language by Sinn Fein is the same as “a bullet being fired in the fight for Irish independence”.

The comments were made by Independent Unionist Councillor Maurice Devenney at Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Full Council meeting on Thursday evening.

The Council had been discussing a proposal tabled by Sinn Fein Councillor Maoliosa McHugh that a review is undertaken on the Council’s policy with regards language usage.

The proposal, raised while the Council was reviewing minutes from an earlier committee meeting, was seconded by Sinn Fein Councillor Karina Carlin.

Colr McHugh had proposed that the Council initiates a comprehensive policy review of language usage, including in its corporate branding and signage.

This, he added, should be carried out within the confines of the Good Friday Agreement and in the context of the European Charter for Regional or Minority languages.

He added that such a review was “overdue”.

SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly said his party had no issue with what was being proposed, and queried how the Council would be likely to move forward on the matter. He asked whether a working group would be set up to progress that, and Colr. McHugh responded later that this was what he envisaged would happen.

The Council’s Chief Executive John Kelpie said that council officers would ordinarily consider such a matter and bring a report back to the relevant committee, in this case potentially the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.

DUP Councillor Drew Thompson said he took it that the outcome of such a review would be subject to an Equality Impact Assessment.

Mr Kelpie replied that any proposed policy change would be screened and a decision taken after that.

Colr. Devenney claimed that Sinn Fein had “stolen the thunder” from a motion due to be tabled later at the same meeting by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly, calling for the Council to adopt a “bilingual policy of Irish and English on corporate branding and signage upon scheduled replacement”.

Colr. Devenney said: “I thought we had a very good policy here on the signage. We have the three languages, English, Irish and Ulster Scots and I would be worried by the proposals coming forward here that some of that may be removed.

“There has been good work done in this chamber and everyone has tried to work together,” he said, adding that he would find it “very, very negative” if there was any agenda to take Ulster Scots out of the equation.

Colr. Devenney said he did not have a problem with the Irish language, but did have an issue with it being used as a political football.

He also said the Irish language had also been raised at a meeting the previous week.

“How far do we take this?” he said, while claiming that every word spoken in Irish by Sinn Fein “is the same as a bullet being fired in the fight for Independence”.

Colr, McHugh’s proposal was carried with the backing of 28 Councillors, while 10 voted against.

Colr. Donnelly’s motion, tabled later at the meeting was defeated, with five Councillors voting for it, 31 against, and one abstention.