Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Council’s compliance with bi-lingual policy sparks row with Unionists

A decision by the incoming Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to adhere to its own bi-lingual policy on Irish language has been angrily criticized by Unionist councillors who have lodged an official objection to the move.

It has emerged that eight councillors have requested the ‘call in procedure’ to challenge the ruling that the Council name will appear in Irish ahead of English on all new official logos, literature and vehicles.

The motion, which proposed to follow the bi-lingual policy that the Irish language should appear above the English and, when side by side, to the left of the English version, was put forward by Sinn Fein’s Barra Ó Muirí at a committee meeting last Wednesday and was carried by 14 votes to five.

However, the decision has sparked a bitter row between unionists and nationalists over the bilingual policy, with DUP Minister Nelson McCausland describing the ‘Irish first’ logo as “cultural sectarianism”.

Speaking on BBC Radio’s Nolan Show Mr McCausland said it was a way for “nationalists, Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors in Newry and Mourne to try to assert their domination by enforcing the preference for and prominence of Irish in their council area”.

Responding, Councillor Ó Muirí argued that both languages are protected and that all parties were given a choice after being asked to consider it and decide which version would appear to the fore.  He said unionists “have nothing to fear” and expressed his disappointment at the call-in request.

“Time and again I have told my fellow councillors of the need for mutual understanding and respect when dealing with bilingualism.  The Irish language does not belong to any political party, it does not belong to any particular persuasion, and the assertion by the Unionist councillors that this in any way creates division is misleading and incorrect,” he said.

UUP Group Leader on the Council, David Taylor accused nationalists of “steam-rolling”:  “The manner in which nationalist councillors have tried to steam roller this decision without fulfilling legal requirements demonstrates this is an attempt to domineer and lord it over a vulnerable minority,” he said.

“Republicans and Nationalists must face up to the fact that the rights of the minority Unionist community have to be protected. They will be resisted at every opportunity in their attempts to ride roughshod over our rights, which are every bit as legitimate as the majority community in the district.”

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley has defended the Council’s decision and says he cannot see “anything discriminatory” about it.

“It doesn’t prevent speakers of English using English. Why shouldn’t speakers of Irish have the same rights as speakers of English?” he asked.

In a statement, the Council said a legal opinion is being sought on the request.

Confirming the call-in request from eight councillors, a spokesperson said: “This has been called in on the basis of community impact grounds and, as it is an admissible call-in under section 41(1)(b) of the Local Government Act (NI) 2014, it has been referred by the Chief Executive for a legal opinion.”

The call-in process was also used last month when Sinn Fein councillors objected to the chosen name for the new council, claiming that the omission of ‘Gullion’ was a snub to the entire region of south Armagh.