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Irish language job at Belfast council step closer

By Victoria Leonard

The appointment of a staff member dedicated to promoting the Irish language for Belfast City Council came a step closer last night.

At a full council meeting, councillors gave the go-ahead for a public consultation on a draft Policy on Linguistic Diversity - which will include plans for a staff member dedicated to promoting Irish.

If appointed, they would train council staff in Irish, support them in translations and provide services in Irish.

They would also provide support and training for Irish language groups in the city.

At last night's council meeting, DUP councillor Lee Reynolds said there was "no justification for the creation of a dedicated staff resource" and called for the issue to be taken back to the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee for further consideration.

However, this was opposed by Sinn Fein.

Alliance's Michael Long then addressed the council meeting in Irish, telling them that he was a member of the Presbyterian Church and that "Irish belongs to all of us".

He cited Protestant Irish language activist Linda Ervine, and asked: "If a loyalist from East Belfast can support the Irish language, then who cannot?"

Calling on the council to endorse the policy, Mr Long said it was "very exciting" and that it was good to recognise "linguistic diversity in our community".

Also backing the proposal was Sinn Fein councillor Seanna Walsh, who called it a "no brainer".

"Up to now it has been like a see-saw or tug of war: you pull one way we pull the other," he said.

"With this initiative we can get everybody on board."

SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood called the draft policy a "timely development" which should be taken in a "positive way" and "embraced".

"We should be open to any consultation to bring things forward," he stated.

Councillor Walsh said the DUP's attempt to block the appointment "shows their continued contempt and opposition to equality".

"It's clear the DUP have learned nothing from the public's rejection of the DUP's arrogance and their contempt for equality and the Irish language and identity in the recent election," he said.

Mr Reynolds' proposal to take the draft policy back to the committee was seconded by fellow DUP councillor Graham Craig, but defeated, with 31 against, 22 in favour.

Recently, DUP leader Arlene Foster has been meeting with Irish language groups amid calls for an Act to protect the tongue.

Mrs Foster said that she is on a "journey" with regards to the Irish language.

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