I have received a number of complaints from staff working for Newry, Mourne and Down Council about an “Irish language skills audit”.
Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!
The staff who have contacted me have expressed concern that their lack of either knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.
It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council.
This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.
It is unfair that members of the Protestant and unionist community– who make up a relatively small minority of the council workforce – have been left feeling like this.
The audit has created a chill factor within the workforce and should be halted immediately.
I am have written to the Equality Commission asking them to investigate these issues.
As the commission has itself noted in the past “in Northern Ireland the views of the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities on the use and promotion of the Irish language are distinct” and they have cited research which shows that around one out of every two Roman Catholics (52%) say Irish is important to their personal identity compared with just one out of twenty Protestants (5%).
It is my belief that the audit flies in the face of the council’s duty to promote equality of opportunity between members of the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths and Nationalists and Unionists.
It is time for Newry, Mourne and Down Council to catch itself on and scrap the audit.
Failing that, the commission should demonstrate that it is interested in things beyond ‘gay cakes’ and take a real stand for a minority which is being discriminated against in this case – the Protestants in Newry, Mourne and Down council workforce.
Henry Reilly, TUV councillor, Kilkeel