Campaign for Irish signs at Queen’s is ‘causing intimidation’

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey
Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey

A campaign to have Irish language signs returned to Queen’s University Belfast is causing concern and intimidation, a councillor has said.

On Tuesday night a motion was passed for Students Union president Stephen McCrystal and equality & diversity officer Rachel Powell to work with the university’s Irish language society, An Cumann Gaelach, for the return of bilingual English-Irish signage removed in 1997.

The vote comes after An Cumann Gaelach wrote to the university last month pressing for the return of the signs. However, Professor James C McElnay, acting president and vice-chancellor, rejected their request and defended “a good and harmonious environment free from... Language likely to be provocative, offensive or intimidatory”.

Speaking on Radio Ulster Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, from lobby group Conradh na Gaeilge, said that following the failure to find political agreement on an Irish language act, students and activists are now looking across society and “promoting the visibility... of Irish in our own institutions - in this case Queen’s”.

However UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey opposed him, saying: “There are people in Queen’s who feel concerned and feel intimidated. Their views have got to be taken into consideration.” Eileen Lavery from the Equality Commission added that QUB is acting in accordance with the law.

Meanwhile, Prof McElnay said he would like to “apologise unreservedly for any offence caused” by his earlier comments and said he continues a “widespread dialogue”.