The erection of Christmas signs in Irish should not be subjected to equality impact screening, equality and language officers at Derry City and Strabane District Council have concluded.
Republicans and nationalists welcomed the conclusion, which followed a pre-Christmas request that officers look at the costs and logistics of putting up festive greetings in English, Irish and Ulster Scots.
At a meeting of the Environment and Regeneration Committee last week, the Chief Environment officer, Conor Canning, confirmed that following a review, officers suggested Derry City and Strabane District Council policy allows for the erection of Irish signs without any equality impact provisos.
Sinn Féin Colr. Maolíosa McHugh, whose party colleague Karina Carlin’s proposal that council go ahead and procure and erect signage in the Irish language before Christmas, was blocked by the SDLP and unionists pending an equality, cost and logistic review, said he appreciated the report but expressed anger over “the fact the indigenous language of our country was subject to an equality assessment.”
He pointed to a ‘Soilse an Phobail - People’s Lights’ community campaign which, in the absence of council-backed Christmas illuminations in Strabane, raised £6,000 to ensure they would be put in place.
Colr. McHugh said local native speakers, Gaeilgeoirí and Gaelscoileanna pupils “found it offensive that they were refused permission to put up their own lights as Gaeilge.”
He asked that the conclusions of the Christmas lighting report be tied in with an ongoing review of the council’s language policy.
DUP Alderman David Ramsey said his party would not be supporting the erection of lights in Irish in future, due to the additional costs to the ratepayer and ongoing political sensitivities.
“This issue is very sensitive at the moment,” he said.
“It’s currently a red line in trying to establish a goverment and, frankly, it gets people’s backs up in the unionist community.”
Alderman Ramsey accused republicans of using the language as a “political football.”
But SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney said the DUP had itself politicised the language through Communities Minister Paul Givan’s Líofa bursary flip-flop either side of Christmas.
“It may surpise people but I agree with David Ramsey on one thing, it is a political football and it’s been made a political football by the DUP,” claimed Colr. Tierney.
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey hit back: “When one talks about the political footballs, it wasn’t a unionist who said ‘every word used in Irish was bullet fired in the struggle for Irish freedom’.”
Colr. McHugh suggested the language was first politicised 848 years ago.
He accused those of denigrating the language of ignorance.
“It’s a door of opportunity. I feel it’s an expression of ignorance when people draw the curtain or close that door,” he said.
‘CURRY MY YOGURT, CAN COCA COALYER’
Sinn Féin Colr. Kevin Campbell referenced former DUP MLA Gregory Campbell’s infamous ‘curry my yogurt can coca coal yer’ and ‘cora my yogi bear, a can coca colya’ both apparent parodies of ‘Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.’
“When you have politicians coming out with ‘curry my yoghurt’ and ‘can coca colya,’ it’s an insult to the hundreds of thousands of Irish speakers up and down the country,” said Colr.. Campbell.
But Ald. Ramsey insisted nationalist and republicans were engaging in political “point-scoring” and DUP Alderman Graham Warke added: “This is Christmas time we’re talking about when everyone wants to come together at the end of the day.”