12/01/2011

Irish Road Signs Point To Stormont Division

NI politicians are taking divergent routes on a proposal to splash-out on the provision of bilingual road signs.

A consultation on a range of bilingual traffic signs in either Irish or Ulster-Scots has been launched by Regional Development Minister, Conor Murphy, who said: "The policy is intended to facilitate the introduction of a number of certain bi-lingual traffic signs in Irish or Ulster-Scots for the specific purpose of promoting minority languages."

He said that NI has obligations under the European Charter for the protection of minority languages and the proposed policy will permit the inclusion of either Irish or Ulster-Scots, a move that has already sparked a row with the signs pointing not to inclusion, but instead to division.

Sinn Fein Pottinger representative, Niall Ó Donnghaile expressed his 'shock' at the stance taken by the Alliance party on the consultation document on bilingual signage.

Speaking after Alliance Councillor Judith Cochrane referred to the plan as 'ghettoising' NI, Mr Ó Donnghaile said: "I have to say I am somewhat shocked at the views expressed by the Alliance party.

"This is the Regional Development Minister implementing his obligations under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, something which other Ministers, including the Alliance Party's own, could learn from.

"I find it difficult to believe that the Alliance state that this plan would 'ghettoise' the North; are they saying for example, that the Gaeltacht Quarter in west Belfast is a ghetto because is chooses to operate through the medium of Irish?" he fumed.

However, the Alliance Regional Development Spokesperson, MLA Anna Lo has now also said: "This plan will mean clear tribal demarcations as there can never be a sign featuring three languages together. This is akin to people putting flags up in certain areas to mark out territory. This will be like an institutionalised mark of tribalism."

Joining the debate, Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Tom Elliott has said that people will be aghast at the news that Conor Murphy has launched a consultation on the provision of such signs.

Tom said: "Following the 'shambolic' response of NI Water to burst water pipes which affected over 60,000 homes in NI and made us in the eyes of the world look as a third world country coming immediately after the failure of his Department to ensure the gritting footpaths or minor roads and also serious issues over budgets, I cannot believe that the provision of bilingual signs in Irish or Ulster Scots should be seen as a priority.

"The cost of the consultation and provision of signs is outrageous, the money would be much better spent on repair of roads which are in an appalling state," he said, on Tuesday.

Strangford MLA and Deputy Chair of the Assembly's Regional Development Committee Michelle McIlveen has also criticised the decision.

"Given the range of problems on Connor Murphy's desk he should be focusing on more important matters rather than a pointless political exercise about bilingual signage.

"This is a Sinn Fein hobby horse and not a sensible proposal given the budgetary constraints faced by departments," said the DUP MLA.

"It is clear therefore that the Minister simply wants to hold a 'fantasy consultation', possibly to distract attention away from the other problems steadily piling up within his Department.

There are costs associated with such a consultation and given that he is fully aware the plans will not succeed it seems that the Minister is quite prepared to waste public money on a pointless political exercise."

See: Murphy Signs 'Are Tribalism'

(BMcC/GK)

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