DUP to block bilingual signs plan

 

The DUP has pledged to block plans by Regional Development minister Conor Murphy to provide for Irish language and Ulster-Scots road signs in the North.

The Sinn Féin minister announced a public consultation on allowing council welcome signs in towns or villages, plus signs at schools or tourist sites, to be in English as well as either Irish or Ulster-Scots.

But the DUP objected and claimed councils already had similar powers, accusing the minister of seeking to extend it to other sites.

Mr Murphy said the measure would help his department meet commitments under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

“The policy is intended to facilitate the introduction of a number of certain bilingual traffic signs in Irish or Ulster-Scots for the specific purpose of promoting minority languages,” he said.

“We have 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, on town or village welcome signs, some supplementary plate signs, for example a ‘School’ warning sign, and certain tourist signs.”

Bilingual signs would have to be requested through a local district council and any costs would be borne by the applicant, which may be a council or, in the case of a tourist venue or a school, an individual.

The minister said there would be no additional cost for the department.

But DUP deputy chair of the Assembly’s Regional Development Committee Michelle McIlveen criticised the plan and said the minister knew it would not be supported by the DUP at Executive level.

“Given the range of problems on Conor Murphy’s desk he should be focusing on more important matters rather than a pointless political exercise about bilingual signage,” she said.

“This is a Sinn Fein hobbyhorse and not a sensible proposal given the budgetary constraints faced by departments.

“The minister will also be aware that these wasteful proposals will not gain cross-community support at the Executive.”

Ms McIlveen added: “Councils are already free to erect such ‘welcome’ signage at the entrances to towns and villages and there are a number of examples of these already.

The Alliance Party’s Anna Lo said the signage idea could be divisive.

“This plan will mean that there will be clear tribal demarcations in areas because there can never be a sign featuring the three languages together,” she said.

“This is akin to people putting flags up in certain areas to mark out territory. This will be like an institutionalised mark of tribalism.”