Call for council probe into Belfast City Hall Irish language event

Protestors outside Belfast City Hall as it was lit up in red in support of the Irish language
Protestors outside Belfast City Hall as it was lit up in red in support of the Irish language

Belfast City Council has been urged to launch an internal investigation over claims that an event at city hall was wrongly advertised as being in support of an Irish language act.

Around 200 activists gathered on Saturday afternoon as the landmark building was illuminated red, in an event billed as a show of solidarity for those campaigning for greater protections for Irish speakers.

The move sparked anger from some unionists, with the DUP claiming it was “a clear and blatant politicisation of our civic building”.

The motion, proposed by Sinn Fein group leader Ciaran Beattie on behalf of Irish language group Conradh na Gaelige, was approved thanks to votes from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance.

But Alliance councillor Michael Long has claimed the motion had not been portrayed as a show of support for an Irish language act, and accused council of “misrepresenting” the event on its website.

He told the News Letter yesterday: “The lighting up motion was originally about giving support to the Irish language in general, not an Irish language act. That is what we voted to support.

“But in subsequent discussions between council officers and Conradh na Gaelige, and I imagine Sinn Fein were involved as well, the whole premise changed and it became linked to a campaign for an Irish language act.

“It was even advertised in this way on the council website. I raised this with the chief executive and on Saturday, the information on the website was changed to reflect what was actually agreed by council.

“My concern is that council staff and Conradh na Gaelige turned this into something that wasn’t agreed by council. I have asked for an investigation into how this happened.”

When asked if Alliance would have voted to support the proposal to light up city hall if it had been in support an Irish language act, Mr Long told the News Letter: “We would have had concerns about turning it a political event.”

But DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said he “does not buy” the Alliance representative’s claim, adding: ”There have been motions in support of an Irish language act that have gone through at Belfast City Council in the past thanks to Alliance votes, so for them to now suggest that they would suddenly have a problem with supporting it is just not credible.

“We are getting closer to an election. When Alliance were voting in favour of an Irish language act over the last few years, they never had any nerves or qualms about it; suddenly they seem to.”

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, advocacy manager for Conradh na Galeige, said the organisation had been “very clear and up front from the outset” that the illumination of city hall was designed to support the campaign for an Irish language act.

He told the News Letter: “It was public knowledge that Saturday’s event was designed to mark the anniversary of the first public protest in support of an Irish language act two years ago. I can’t speak for Alliance, but from our perspective the symbolism was clear.”

Belfast City Council declined to comment yesterday.