Unionists have warned that a decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to illuminate the Guildhall or another civic building in support of the campaign for an Irish language act sets “a dangerous precedent”.
Despite a number of elected members voicing concerns about the council showing its support for “a political campaign”, the nationalist-dominated local authority approved the move by 30 votes to eight.
Proposing the council agree to the lighting up request from Conradh Na Gaeilge – an organisation which promotes the Irish language – Sinn Fein councillor Maolíosa McHugh said: “In my time as mayor, I often would have used the Irish language and that actually would have drawn, at times, a very negative response from some sources but I have always insisted the language is above party politics and I firmly and absolutely believe that in every respect.”
Independent unionist Maurice Devenney said he had nothing against Irish, but wouldn’t be supporting the proposal.
He said many unionists couldn’t go along with it “when the Irish language has been used as a political football at times to beat the people they are now trying to bring on board”.
He added: “When there are comments such as, ‘every word spoken in Irish is the same as a bullet fired for Irish freedom’, that’s where the problem with the Irish language act is.
“It’s good to hear Sinn Fein saying they are taking it out of the political sphere.”
The DUP’s Hilary McClintock said: “It would be a very dangerous precedent if we went with this motion because all the other times that we have talked about lighting up council buildings, we have done it because of particular charities or health commitments but we have never got involved in lighting up a political campaign.”
SDLP councillor Martin Reilly, who seconded Mr McHugh’s proposal, said: “The Irish language does not belong to any political party or any individual, it belongs to every single person who chooses to speak it and this building doesn’t belong to any particular party or individual, it belongs to every single citizen. So if there is a request coming forward from people who are in our area who want to see the building illuminated, I was happy to second it.”
Independent councillor Paul Gallagher said he hoped the campaign might influence the people who are telling the DUP not to support an Irish language act.