Ex-IRA language activist defends spread of Irish on public transport

A former republican convict who is now an Irish language activist has defended the spread of Irish language signs on Belfast public transport – something one councillor says will “enrage” some unionists.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 9:00 am
Updated Friday, 23rd April 2021, 9:49 am
The rough route of the new bilingual Glider buses in Belfast

The announcement was made on Wednesday by SDLP transport minister Nichola Mallon, who said Irish will appear on Glider buses going through republican-dominated west Belfast.

There are already Metro bus services in west Belfast which display bilingual signs; this new announcement will expand the practice further.

The minister, when unveiling her announcement, said “one of my priorities in government will be to ensure equality is at the heart of all that we do; while there is still much more work to be done, today marks an important milestone”.

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Pilib O Ruanai speaking as part of a tribute to Bobby Sands

She pledged more bilingual signs will follow, adding that she has “worked closely with local stakeholders Forbairt Feirste” in making it happen.

Sinn Fein ex-finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is a former director of the group.

And currently one of its directors is Pilib O Ruanai – an ex-IRA man and friend of Bobby Sands, who was sent to jail for explosives offences.

There’s no suggestion anyone else in the group is connected to paramilitary republicanism, or is involved with Sinn Fein.

DUP group leader on the council Brian Kingston said there have been times when “unionists feel Irish has been imposed on them or pushed into their faces” by republicans, and it is important that it’s kept “very much according to where people wish to see it”.

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers meanwhile said Ms Mallon is pushing the Irish language “at every opportunity, and this is going to lead to causing quite an angry response” – with the latest expansion of it on a taxpayer-funded service making some people “enraged”.

The News Letter spoke to Mr O Ruanai, who said he was not a member of Sinn Fein.

It was put to him that some unionists are especially turned off the Irish language because they see it as a political project of republicans.

“It’s a pity the language is being politicised. The language has been here longer than there’s been political structures in this country,” he said.

“From my point of view really, I just see the Irish language as a form of expression that’s inherent to Ireland and really should be cherished...

“It’s part of our heritage, so even if people don’t speak it, they should respect it I think.”

He added: “People can object. People are entitled to their own opinion. But they don’t have a right to force those views on other people.

“If this was something in danger of being lost, say for example a plant or an animal that was in danger, there’d be measures taken to protect and preserve it...

“The Irish language movement itself is a very, very diverse body of people.

“It doesn’t share one political viewpoint – no doubt about that.”

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