Belfast council Irish language officer ‘could cost up to £50,000’

Belfast City Council plans to appoint two new language officers, with one dedicated to promoting Irish
Belfast City Council plans to appoint two new language officers, with one dedicated to promoting Irish

Plans to hire a dedicated Irish language officer for Belfast City Council could cost ratepayers up to £50,000 a year, a DUP councillor has claimed.

The council is set to recruit two new officers, one whose sole responsibility will be to promote Irish, while the other will be a linguistics officer with responsibility for Ulster-Scots and minority languages, including sign language.

But it remains unclear if the council will have to bear the full cost of the creation of the Irish language post.

In a consultation document earlier this year, city hall had suggested that the role could be joint-funded by Foras na Gaeilge, a government-backed Irish language body.

However, the organisation’s CEO Seán Ó Coinn told the News Letter yesterday that the funding scheme has recently been reviewed and is due to end this year.

“A revised scheme is due to be launched next year,” he said.

The decision to employ two new officers was approved by the council’s strategic policy and resources committee on Friday. The move is subject to ratification at the next meeting of Belfast City Council.

Unionist parties on the council had objected and instead wanted one officer to take responsibility for all languages, including Irish.

Branding the decision a “waste of money”, DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said Belfast ratepayers were “being treated like a political piggy bank” by some of the other parties.

He added: “Money has already been set aside for the appointment of a new language officer. But now that Sinn Fein and other parties have voted to create an extra post focusing purely on the Irish language, it will mean additional money is going to have to be found when the rates are set.

“The post could cost between £40,000-£50,000, which is needless additional expenditure when one role covering all languages would have sufficed. It is also unclear if the council will have to meet 100% of the costs.”

In a consultation earlier this year, 61% of respondents backed the idea of an Irish language officer.

A total of 53% of people were in favour of having two officers – one specifically for Irish and one for all other languages.

Only 28% of respondents were in favour of appointing one officer for all languages.

The News Letter asked city hall yesterday how much the two posts were likely to cost, but a spokesperson said the council was unable to provide this information as the job specifications have not yet been drawn up.

Foras na Gaeilge – jointly funded by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland and the Republic’s Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – has contributed towards three Irish language officer posts in the Province in recent years.

This included 50% funding for an officer in the former Derry City Council area, another post shared between Magherafelt and Limavady council areas, and a third covering the Dungannon and South Tyrone areas.