The DUP says the decision to illuminate city hall in Belfast for an Irish language protest tomorrow is “a clear and blatant politicisation of our civic building”.
Belfast City Council said the building will be lit in red to mark the anniversary of the first public protest in support of an Irish language act, organised by activist group An Dream Dearg two years ago.
The go-ahead for the illumination was given at a committee meeting in November, and then rubber-stamped during a full meeting of the City council last month – thanks to votes from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance.
Councillor Lee Reynolds, the DUP group leader on the council, said: “We opposed it at committee and we opposed it at full council but it went through with SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance Party votes.”
City hall will be lit up to mark various occasions and events throughout 2019, including the Chinese New Year, St Valentine’s Day and the Queen’s birthday.
“There is an agreed package, a balanced package, representing important events throughout the year,” Mr Reynolds said.
“But this is above and beyond that and it is directly linked to an ongoing political campaign. The council is effectively endorsing a political campaign.”
He added: “It is a clear and blatant politicisation of our civic building, a building that is supposed to be for everyone.
“This is yet another example of how much Alliance is facilitating the nationalist agenda.”
Alliance councillor Michael Long defended his party’s position.
“The Irish language belongs to everybody,” he said. “I say that as someone who comes from a Presbyterian background who is very proud of the role Presbyterians have played in maintaining the language over the centuries.
“I think it is important that we recognise the importance of the Irish language – and I would have no problem celebrating the Ulster-Scots language in a similar way.
“We certainly believe an Irish language act in some form, although we don’t necessarily agree with what Sinn Fein want to put in it.”
Sinn Fein, meanwhile, is encouraging people to turn up on Saturday at city hall to “demand an Irish language act”.
Councillor Órla Nic Biorna said: “The Irish language threatens no one and enriches our society and the Irish language community are entitled to protection with an Irish language act.”
City hall will be lit up in red at 4.30pm tomorrow.