The first of April saw the rise of the new council structure in Northern Ireland as local councils were given more power in their community. However many unionists are unhappy with the new changes which include putting Irish first of council signage as well as a ban on poppy selling within some local councils.
The councils in Northern Ireland have a big say in running our local community. They carry out necessary tasks that many of us take for granted such as environmental health, rubbish collection and marriages. However the council system has changed dramatically over the last few months.
On the first of April of this year the government decided to decrease the number of councils in Northern Ireland, this was done to make our councils run more efficiently and to save money in the long run. Before the change was implemented there were twenty six councils in Northern Ireland, now there are only eleven. Although the number of councils has decreased the role of these councils has dramatically increased as the ‘super councils’ now have more responsibilities which include planning and parking.
Although these changes are for the better many are not happy with the changes their councils have made to the area. In some of the more nationalist areas of the country such as the Newry, Mourne and Down have decided to make Irish their primary language on their signage, letterheads and vehicles. The Mid Ulster Council have also stopped the selling of poppies within their council buildings. These decisions have resulted in what some refer to as a ‘cold house’ for unionist members of the community.
Within the Newry, Mourne and Down Council Sinn Fein Cllr Barra O’Muiri proposed that the Irish Language should come before the English Language and when placed side by side it should be on the left. This would occur on any council signage and letterheads. This vote was passed with fourteen votes to five. As members of the council and its community are mainly nationalist this vote was not surprising for locals.
Barra O’Muiri commented on his proposal. He said that this was, ‘a lasting and meaningful contribution towards building a strong and united community. It will not in any way threaten or displace the English Language but sit alongside it as a living and vibrant language.”
Many unionist members of the community are annoyed and disheartened by this vote. DUP Nelson McCausland is angry at the proposal and its result. He said, “This is another attempt by nationalists and republicans to assert their dominance in that area, whilst some would like to present this as a petty argument over a letterheads it is actually a deeper issue about a council and whether it values all its citizens equally or whether it will use the Promotion of the Irish language as a tool to exclude others. He continues to say that ‘The English is the language of proper communication on Northern Ireland and should remain first on the signage.
Members of the DUP are not the only party to take this stance of the issue. Brendan Curran an independent Newry Cllr said, “They are using it as a political football as I know they are not too active in organising and supporting Irish language classes in the area. The introduction of the Irish language has to be done in a sensitive way, it shouldn’t be shoved down people’s throats.”
Mark Murphy (24) from Ballyward lives within the Newry, Mourne and Down Council. He does not agree with the change. He said, “I am annoyed at the new change as I do not think it reflects the district, within Newry City Centre people communicate using many languages. As Irish is the fourth most popular in the city I do believe that it should be first.”
He continues, “I do not mind it being on the signage but I think the English language should come first, as it is the most widely spoken and understood language throughout the world, therefore it can be understood by everyone who lives here and people who come to visit from other countries. I myself live in this country and cannot read or pronounce Irish, so how can we expect tourists to understand it.”
Judging by these comments many people are hurt and angry at the change, as many unionist members of the community cannot speak Irish nor do they want their language to be considered second best to others. Everyone recognises that Northern Ireland is trying to move on from its past. To some this decision means equality but to others it means that their heritage and language is being considered second best.
It comes as no surprise that Sinn Fein and the SDLP back these plans for the Irish Language and this could see the emergence of three other nationalist super councils. These include Mid Ulster, Derry and Strabane and Fermanagh and Omagh. As the Vote has been cast and passed in Newry, Mourne and Down these other councils are starting to follow suit as Mid Ulster has also changed their signage in which Irish is situated before English.