Belfast City Council has backed a motion calling for the introduction of an Irish language act.
During a heated and lengthy debate in City Hall last night, a majority of councillors (34 for, 22 against) lent their support to the contentious proposal, put forward by Cllr Matthew Collins of left-wing party People Before Profit.
DUP Cllr Lee Reynolds claimed the motion was about removing British culture and replacing it with Irish.
He told elected members: “If this vote goes the way I think it will tonight, all those who voted to take Britishness out of this building are now going to vote to put Irish in.”
UUP Ald Chris McGimpsey told the chamber that some Irish advocates were using the language as a way to “poke the Prods in the eye”.
He added: “People who are interested in the Irish language need to waken up and realise that they have friends in the unionist community.
“But constantly attacking us and weaponising the language is not the way forward.”
PUP Cllr Julie-Ann Corr Johnston said there were already existing provisions to protect and promote the Irish language, adding: “We will continue to support these provisions. However, we will not support an Irish language act, stand alone or by any other description.”
In a presentation to members earlier in the evening, Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein from Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge urged members to back the motion.
Cllr Collins said his proposal was not an “orange and green” issue, but rather “a question of basic human rights”.
SF Cllr Deirdre Hargy claimed the collapse of the latest round of talks at Stormont was due to unionist “scaremongering” over the Irish language.