Councillors clashed over the rival statuses of Irish and Ulster Scots at a meeting of the council Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.
Unionists complained Irish was being “shoved down their throats” by Sinn Féin, while nationalists argued Ulster Scots was “a dialect, not a language”, with one even suggesting the local authority should abandon any special recognition for Ullans at all.
The dispute arose after Ellen Cavanagh, Lead Democratic Services and Improvement Officer, asked members to endorse a report to the Department of Communities onthow council has been complying with its obligations under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
Sinn Féin Councillor Maolíosa McHugh said he was reticent about endorsing a recommendation that the committee note the “positive progress” the council hasdmade in meeting its language obligations. He said it “really concerned” him that a Sinn Féin proposal late last year that council look at the logistics of erecting Christmas signage in Irish was amended and subjected to an equality impact assessment.
He said it “stretched beyond belief” ta “Nollaig Shona Duit” sign in Strabane, in “the indigenous language of the nation”, had to be erected by the local community rather than the local authority.
“I find that shocking,” he said, and congratulated people in Strabane who took it upon themselves to erect a sign.
Independent unionist Maurice Devenney, who is not a member of the committee, but sat in on its business, responding to comments that Irish, as the language of Ireland, had special status, said he “wouldn’t expect anything less from Sinn Féin”.
He said that many within the unionist communtiy “grew up with the language”, complaining, “it’s when it’s shoved down people’s throats that we a problem”.
He added: “It’s the same councillor who rants and raves about the language.”
Councillor McHugh retorted: “I’ve been accused of a rant. His whole tone of delivery is more of a rant that anything I’ve said.”
Independent Paul Gallagher also congratulated the people in Strabane for putting up the Nollaig Shona Duit sign, stating: “It was good to see people power in action.”
Independent Gary Donnelly said he believed, “Ulster Scots [was] a dialect, not a language” and that council support for Ulster Scots as a language might be abandoned.
“It’s maybe time for council to look at a bi-lingual policy rather than a tri-lingual policy,” he said.