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Belfast council unveils policy to promote Irish and Ulster-Scots

Public consultation launched

By Staff Reporter

Belfast City Council is to transform how it treats minority languages, with a major promotion of both Irish and Ulster-Scots.

In a new policy, which was revealed on Tuesday, May 22 as a public consultation was launched into the proposals, the council will create micro-sites on its website in the languages, as well as responding to correspondence in both.

However, it appears the plans will go further for Irish than for Ulster-Scots, with any correspondence and telephone calls received in Irish able to be responded to in Irish, but only "where possible" in Ulster-Scots.

The policy proposes to treat the two differently, with a focus on "enhancement and protection" of the Irish language, and the "promotion" of Ulster-Scots.

The new policy also proposes the appointment of an Irish language officer, who will be responsible for developing an action plan to ensure that promotion of the language can be "effectively provided" by the council. This will include awareness raising and language training.

Bilingual documents, signage and branding will be used when likely to be seen primarily by users of Irish, and the same will apply to Ulster-Scots.

The council will also draw up action plans for Irish, Ulster-Scots and others, including sign language.

The proposals come as the devolved administration at Stormont remains in limbo amid disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

An Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland is one of the main bones of contention. According to official data, almost 13.5% of the population of Belfast has some ability in Irish, with more than 16,000 people being able to speak, read, write and understand it, and just under 3,000 pupils receiving an Irish-medium education.

Meanwhile, 5.2% of the city's population has some ability in Ulster-Scots and just over 2,000 people speak, read, write and understand it.

The most commonly spoken other languages in Belfast include Polish, Chinese, Tagalog/Filipino and Slovak.

Belfast City Council voted at the start of May for its new language policy. However, there was disagreement over the proposal to employ an Irish language officer, with DUP councillor Lee Reynolds insisting there was "no justification" for the move.

However, it was voted through with the support of Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party.

The council said that as part of the new framework, officers wanted to develop three separate policies.

"An Irish language policy will focus primarily on the enhancement and protection of the language," it said.

"The Ulster-Scots language policy will look more to the promotion of the language, its culture and heritage, rather than the need for translation and interpretation services.

"Our aim for the policy on other minority languages, including sign language, is to ensure good communication and increased awareness and understanding of minority cultures."

The policy documents are available on the council's website www.belfastcity.gov.uk/consultationhub and in other formats by telephoning 028 90 270544 or emailing equality@belfastcity.gov.uk. The eight-week public consultation, a Draft Policy on Linguistic Diversity, will run until Tuesday, July 18.

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