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'Bigotry' claim by Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly after minister changes Irish name of ship

By Rebecca Black

Published 01/10/2016

Michelle McIlveen
Michelle McIlveen

A row over the rechristening of a fisheries vessel has deepened after Gerry Kelly branded the DUP minister responsible for the change a bigot.

The Sinn Fein MLA hit out after Michelle McIlveen changed the name of the boat from the Irish Banrion Uladh to its English equivalent, Queen of Ulster.

But his reaction was branded "hysterical" by the DUP.

The name change was revealed by the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week.

Former Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew - who initially christened the boat in 2010 - described the change as "the most retrograde step I have heard in a long time", and accused the DUP of "racism towards the Irish language".

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff also accused the DUP of being anti-Irish.

And yesterday Mr Kelly tweeted his view that the decision was "beyond petty".

"It's downright bigoted. It's anti-Irish," he said

But DUP MLA Edwin Poots hit back at Mr Kelly's comments.

"The reaction from some quarters has been nothing short of hysterical," he said.

"But people will make their own judgment about Gerry Kelly referring to anyone as bigoted, particularly when the previous tweet on Mr Kelly's timeline is celebrating IRA prisoners escaping from the Maze, an event which resulted in the death of a prison officer."

He added his support for his colleague, stressing she was making the best use of scarce resources.

"When asked about this change of lettering, the minister outlined that it occurred during scheduled maintenance and came at no additional cost to the public purse," he said.

"The minister has decided this newly-created department will have a single language policy in order to make best use of scarce resources."

The vessel was launched as Banrion Uladh by Ms Gildernew in 2010. The DUP and TUV expressed objections at that time.

Ms Gildernew said that before the launch she discussed a lot of other names "far more Irish that I could have (gone) with, but I didn't".

Responding to an Assembly question earlier this week, Ms McIlveen said she had not carried out a public consultation on the name change, and pointed out that Ms Gildernew hadn't either.

The Strangford MLA also clarified that there had been no additional cost for the change.

"The name of the patrol vessel was a matter for the former minister at DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) Michelle Gildernew and was not an issue for consultation," she said.

The boat's role is to patrol the Irish Sea as far south as Anglesey and as far north as Lough Foyle to ensure fishing trawlers are abiding by EU quotas.

The new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) said the change of name was made as part of routine maintenance and no extra expenditure was involved.

"DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy," it said.

"There have consequently been some necessary adaptations to assets transferring to the new department. The change of lettering was carried out at a scheduled annual maintenance event involving repairs, repainting and anti-fouling."

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