Newry, Mourne and Down unionist councillors boycott Irish language group

The council has been asked to reconsider the naming of a  playground after an IRA member
The council has been asked to reconsider the naming of a playground after an IRA member

Unionist councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have boycotted an Irish language group in the council – claiming their concerns are being brushed aside by nationalists.

The Equality Commission recently directed the council to reconsider a decision to name a Newry playground after IRA member Raymond McCreesh.

The local authority has 14 Sinn Fein councillors and 13 SDLP – but only eight unionists.

DUP councillor Garth Craig said unionists were recently asked to nominate members to an Irish Language Strategy Implementation Working Group but declined as they felt their views are being “treated with contempt by nationalist and republican councillors”.

For example, he noted that unionists had advised against erecting Irish signs at council boundaries in mainly unionist areas. However, this was ignored and the signs were vandalised in unionist areas.

UUP councillor David Taylor said his party has consistently opposed the council’s Irish language strategy, describing it as “a petty political ideological crusade”.

And TUV councillor Henry Reilly also hit back at nationalist councillors. “These are the same people who were offended by the council’s email address ending ‘.gov.uk’ or having ‘Welcome to Northern Ireland’ signs at border crossings – and the council lifeguards having the British crown on their t-shirts,” he said.

But Sinn Féin councillor Barra O’Muiri asked why unionists could not follow the example of Linda Ervine, a sister-in-law of late PUP leader David Ervine and a keen Irish language activist.

“Languages are there for us all, there is nothing to be feared by any language, despite what the UUP and DUP councillors say,” he added.

Likewise, an SDLP spokesman said the DUP approach was “disappointing but not wholly surprising given the party’s consistent opposition to including Irish in any medium of public life”.

A council spokeswoman said it had agreed a ‘bilingualism policy’ and is developing an Irish language strategy which is still with the parties for discussion.

All councillors condemned the vandalism to signage, she added.