Ó Muirí refutes claims of £150k budget for Irish Language strategy

November 23, 2015

Sinn Féin’s Newry Mourne and Down Irish Language spokesperson, Barra Ó Muirí, has defended the council’s plans to extend its Irish Language strategy and dismissed as “nonsense” claims that an estimated £150,000 is to be spent on the project.

Mr Ó Muirí spoke out after DUP councillor William Walker voiced his objections to this year’s budget for the Council’s Irish Language Unit, which he said stood at £142,788.  It is understood the budget will go towards the continued application of dual street names, training staff to answer phone calls and written correspondence in Irish and the printing all Council main documents in bilingual format.

Mr Walker branded the strategy a “ludicrous indulgence” at a time of fiscal restraint and said to continue the current level of expenditure would be “sheer madness given that there are more Polish and Lithuanian speakers than Irish in the district.”

The DUP councillor insisted he was not opposed to the Irish Language Strategy but said the £150k budget was “completely over the top” at a time when “everyone is having to tighten their belts.”

Refuting Mr Walker’s claims about costs, Mr Ó Muirí said the council has yet to agree on any Irish language budget for this year. He said the council’s Irish language policy was about “inclusion and equality” and reiterated that his party would make “absolutely no apology for seeking to uphold and defend the rights of Irish language speakers.”

“The council’s agreed bi-lingual strategy follows on from the policies of the two previous legacy councils, which both recognised the need for inclusion of the Irish language in order to fulfil our own equality policies,” he said.

Highlighting the vibrancy of the “living language” and the active Irish language groups which exist across the district, Mr Ó Muirí added,

“While something as integral to our history, identity and culture as our native language could never be measured in monetary terms, Irish does form a key part of the council’s tourism strategy, in particular, our efforts to have the Ireland’s Ancient East project extended up the entire east coast of the country, which would be hugely beneficial to the area.

“The Irish language is not a nationalist or republican issue.  If you look back at the history of the language you’ll see it has shared roots that belong to all of us on the island, regardless of political persuasion.

“Unionists in Newry, Mourne and Down would do better to engage with the language, as they do in areas such as East Belfast, rather than seeking at every opportunity to run down a key element of their own heritage.”

The Council’s proposed Irish Language Strategy is to be discussed at full council next month.