Professor Paddy Nixon was responding to concerns raised by Young Unionists – the youth wing of the UUP – about a motion passed by Ulster University Students’ Union (UUSU) earlier this week calling for the erection of signs in English and Irish.
They claimed the move, which has been welcomed by many Irish speakers, was “a political stunt” designed to make the university “a cold house for unionists.”
In an email to several concerned students, Prof Nixon stressed that the university has not sanctioned a bilingual signage policy on its campuses (Belfast, Jordanstown, Coleraine, Magee).
Stressing that the university is proud of being a welcoming, open and inclusive institution for students and staff from all backgrounds, Prof Nixon said: “Since 2014, we have ensured that only multilingual signage, including Ulster Scots, is used to welcome students to the Students’ Union. This approach is supported by the Equality Commission. We will continue to maintain, nurture and develop an environment which is respectful to all students, staff and everyone who passes through our campus doors.
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“We will work with the Students’ Union to ensure that their signage will be welcoming and reflect the entire Ulster University student population. However, to be absolutely unequivocal, we will not be implementing bilingual signage on our campus facilities.”
Welcoming Prof Nixon’s response, Young Unionists president Alexander Redpath described it as “a significant victory for those wishing to keep the students’ union neutral.”
“The student’s union have conceded that they will have to consult widely before this decision is implemented. We will engage with this consultation and empower unionists to make their voices heard,” Cllr Redpath said.
“We will work with any SU staff who feel intimidated by the prospect of Irish language signage and we will seek to prove that the installation of such signage would be a breach of existing employment law guidance.”
A spokesperson for Ulster University commented: “The Students’ Union at Ulster University is a democratic body of student representatives and whilst we respect their right to discuss and vote on a range of policy matters, all motions brought forward by UUSU to university senior management are subject to further discussion to ensure they align with our university’s Equality Scheme.
“Ulster University is committed to providing an inclusive learning and working environment for both students and staff and has not sanctioned a bilingual signage policy on any of our campuses.
“We will continue to work with the Students’ Union to ensure all signage across our four campuses is welcoming, open, inclusive and reflective for students and staff from all backgrounds.”