Belfast City Council’s decision to appoint a dedicated Irish language officer is “yet another example of Sinn Fein forcing its political agenda on others”, unionists have claimed.
The move, which was ratified at a meeting in City Hall on Monday night, will see the council recruit two new officers, one focusing purely on Irish and the other on Ulster-Scots and minority languages.
But Ulster Unionist Alderman Chris McGimpsey has said evidence demonstrates there is “little demand” for Irish language services provided by the council.
The News Letter revealed on Saturday that an Irish language telephone service set up by City Hall over a decade ago has not been used once since its inception.
We have also learned that on the council website’s Google Translate service, Irish is the eighth most popular after languages such as Chinese, Spanish, German and Polish.
Mr McGimpsey said: “Sinn Fein talk of respect but they show none to others. I am sympathetic to the Irish language but when it is being used as a political weapon by Sinn Fein it simply serves to undermine the language.
“I find it utterly ridiculous that an officer will be dedicated solely to Irish, while another will be left dealing with all other languages.”
The DUP objected to the creation of an Irish language post and proposed an amendment that one officer should take responsibility for all languages, including Irish.
However, the amendment was defeated by 20 votes to 33.
DUP councillor Brian Kingston told the News Letter he felt there has been a “disproportionate allocation of resources” to Irish.
He added: “During the meeting I raised legitimate concerns about the scale of resources devoted to Irish compared to other minority languages.
“The bottom line is that anyone who can speak Irish can also speak English. So it is a matter of choice, not of need.
“If people have an interest in learning a language that is fair enough, but calling for the entire public sector to be delivered in that language at massive cost to the public purse is not fair enough.”
Mr Kingston said city hall was increasingly becoming a cold house for unionists and claimed Sinn Fein is “acting like it has the run of the place”.
He added: “Sinn Fein are very dismissive and derogatory towards others on Belfast City Council who don’t hold their views.
“They are trying to push their republican agenda on others and they show utter contempt towards those who oppose them.
“Questioning the allocation of resources going into Irish does not make someone sectarian.”
Sinn Fein councillor Mairead O’Donnell described Mr Kingston’s comments as a “distraction from the DUP’s continued denial of rights to the citizens of the city”.
She added: “The DUP and political unionism made city hall a cold house for whole sections of the people of this great city for many decades.
“Sinn Fein will continue to promote the progressive politics of inclusion and equality for all the people of Belfast, working to ensure that no citizen is left at the back of the bus.”