Council’s erection of Irish language street signs ‘an attempt to divide harmonious communities’ says UUP representative

A UUP councillor says new bi-lingual street signs near Downpatrick have annoyed residents and are “an attempt to divide communities who otherwise live in harmony”.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 11:14 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 5:18 pm
Ulster Unionist Slieve Croob Councillor Alan Lewis said two dual language signs placed on the Nutgrove Rd at Annadorn were 'utterly ridiculous'.
Ulster Unionist Slieve Croob Councillor Alan Lewis said two dual language signs placed on the Nutgrove Rd at Annadorn were 'utterly ridiculous'.

Slieve Croob Councillor Alan Lewis branded two dual language signs on the Nutgrove Road at Annadorn, east of Downpatrick, as “utterly ridiculous”.

He added: “I understand why people wish to speak Irish, I’ve nothing against any person or group who wish to further their understanding of Irish Language through cultural activities but there is absolutely no need for road signs randomly doted across the countryside effectively marking out territory”.

“It’s unnecessary territory marking tribalism. Most right-thinking residents are rightly annoyed. This is an attempt to divide communities who otherwise live in harmony, I do not understand why one side is determined to force Irish down the throat of their unionist neighbours”.

UUP Councillor Alan Lewis

He also queried why Irish had been placed at the top of the sign with the English “downgraded” below.

This would lead one to ask the point of the design, he said.

“A car going at normal speed would read the Irish before they read the actual road name.”

He added: “The impression given by some supporters of the Irish Language lobby is of a language that has been forced underground, denied rights, oppressed and starved of funding. Figures contained within the Flags, Identity, Culture & Tradition (FICT) commission demonstrate that the facts simply do not bear out the repeated claims of discrimination, many people will be amazed to learn that £190m has been spent on the Irish Language in Northern Ireland in just over 7 years, Nobody is prevented from learning and speaking Irish, it is well provided for in terms of public funding. I do not believe there is the need for an Irish language act but that does not mean we do not support the language community.”

“Given the regular painting out of Irish language signs in mainly unionist areas where the language is not spoken or understood, and where it is seen as political, it is very clear that adverse equality and good relations implications should have been anticipated.”

“I reiterate that I’ve Nothing against Irish or those who wish to speak it however it his continued obsession with dual language signs is furthering and reinforcing a negative image of the Language across our district.”

Mr Lewis said that most people living on the road would be nationalist but that the wider area would be mainly unionist.

“This is just marking out territory,” he added.

He also queried the level of ratepayer expenditure by the council on such signs.

But Sinn Fein MLA Sinéad Ennis described his concerns as “utter nonsense”.

She added: “The Irish language is for everyone in society and it doesn’t belong to any one section of the community.

“Sinn Féin would like to point out to Councillor Lewis that a car cannot read road signs at normal or any other speed.”

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, Advocacy Manager, Conradh na Gaeilge said it was important to “unlock” the Irish language across the country.

“The Irish language is all around us, it is to be found in our places names and indeed in our surnames,” he said. “95% of placenames here come directly from Irish. That shared history needs to be unlocked and promoted.

“Visibility of that common heritage is hugely important for minoritised indigenous languages. That is a concept supported worldwide, and indeed by the council of Europe who oversee the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

“The British Government ratified that Charter in 2001 and local councils have duties according to that treaty. If we are sincere about a truly shared society then the Irish language has to be recognised as a central part of our past, present and future. The days of Irish being unheard and unseen must end. That exclusion has gone on for far too long. From Sliabh Crúibe (Slieve Croob), to Áth na nDorn (Annadorn), the language is all around us, and belongs to us all.”

Daniel Holder, Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, contacted the News Letter to say that Conradh na Gaeilge had suggested it also forward comment on the matter.

Mr Holder said that no human rights are breached by having to look at Irish language signs.

“The suggestion that community ‘harmony’ can only be maintained by an ‘English-only’ policy of blanket exclusion of the Irish language from public space is alarming,” he told the News Letter. “Nobody’s human rights are being breached by having to look at Irish (or English) on a street sign. Both the Belfast Agreement and the human rights treaties the UK signed at the same time commit to ‘respect, understanding and tolerance’ for the Irish language, we are still clearly some distance from that.”

SDLP Slieve Croob councillor Hugh Gallagher described Mr Lewis’ comments as “disappointing rhetoric” and called for legal protection for the Irish language.

He added: “Nobody has anything to fear from the Irish language. It belongs to everyone. This outdated narrative, and indeed the increase in vandalism of Irish language signs, are another reason why we must ensure legal protection for the Irish language in legislation. Residents were contacted and asked to voice any objections before the signs were put up and there was broad support from the local community for the Irish signs.”

Newry Mourne and Down District Council and the SDLP have been approached for comment.