Ulster-Scots signage sparks fresh language row

Cllr Michael Goodman.
Cllr Michael Goodman.

A language row is rumbling on at Antrim and Newtownabbey Council following the erection of Ulster Scots signage in the borough.

In February, unionist members on the local authority voted in favour of an ‘English only’ policy in relation to street signs.

Cllr Nigel Kells.

Cllr Nigel Kells.

It followed a request to council from Abbeyville Residents Association for five street signs to be expressed in Irish.

However, plant pots bearing an Ulster Scots greeting have recently been placed in Antrim’s Scotch Quarter.

It is understood Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach, an Irish language family centre based in Crumlin, plans to lodge a complaint with the Equality Commission in the wake of this development.

Glengormley Sinn Fein representative, Cllr Michael Goodman told the Times: “We have no problem with Ulster Scots or bilingual signage in Ulster Scots.

“The issue is the differential treatment that some people are prepared to countenance in Antrim and Newtownabbey Council between bilingual signage for Ulster Scots and bilingual signage for the Irish language.

“If you’re prepared to do it for Ulster Scots then it should be done for the Irish language as well.”

He added: “It is right and proper that Ulster Scots is promoted if that’s what people in Antrim and Newtownabbey want.

“There are also ratepayers in Antrim and Newtownabbey who want to see recognition of the fact that they are Irish speakers, that they are educating their children through Irish and they live their lives through Irish. They don’t see what the problem is in giving both languages equality.

“We have serious concerns about the way in which the ‘English only’ policy was arrived at and we are reviewing that as much as possible to try and get it overturned at some point in the future.

“I think that just because we agreed on the Ulster Scots signs a year previously, that that then doesn’t have an impact on the English only policy being introduced is a nonsense.”

Responding on the issue, Antrim DUP representative, Cllr Nigel Kells said “my electorate in Antrim are tired of listening to the faux cries of equality” from Sinn Fein.

Adding that “Ulster-Scots has deep roots in my community”, he accused Cllr Goodman of “sniping from a small corner of the council chamber”.

Responding to a press query from the Newtownabbey Times on the issue, an Equality Commission spokesperson said: “The commission is aware, from recent media coverage, of the issues you have raised in relation to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council. The commission has not received a complaint on this matter.

“The commission has responsibilities in respect of the equality duties imposed on public bodies under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to approve each public body’s equality scheme and to consider, and decide whether to investigate, complaints of a failure by a local authority to comply with their scheme.

“It is not for the commission to take decisions for, or to substitute its view for, the decisions made by democratically elected councillors - or any other public authority.”