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Irish words on Ballymena's manhole covers sparks unionists demand for their removal

By Nevin Farrell

Published 08/03/2016

A manhole cover in Ballymena including the Irish word for water
A manhole cover in Ballymena including the Irish word for water
TUV’s Timothy Gaston

A demand has been made for Irish language words to be removed from manhole covers in Ballymena.

The call echoes the time when fast-food giants McDonald's famously 'gave way' to unionist councillors.

Timothy Gaston, the deputy mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough Council, a member of Jim Allister's Traditional Unionist Voice party, wants metal coverings installed as part of a £4m public realm scheme in Ballymena to be replaced.

The coverings are bilingual and as well as the word 'water' they also contain the word 'uisce', which is the Irish word for water.

Several years ago the councillor's father Sam Gaston, then a DUP councillor, succeeded in getting McDonald's to replace the word 'yield' from the drive-through at their Ballymena restaurant.

He said it was the word used in the Republic and McDonald's said they had made a mistake and replaced it with the phrase used in Northern Ireland - 'Give way'.

Now, Timothy Gaston is urging the removal of recently applied water covers which feature the Irish language. He said: "I hope this is an oversight and I encourage the contractor to get these changed as soon as possible.

"Constituents have contacted me to raise questions over the use of the Irish water hydrant covers on the ratepayer-funded public realm project in Ballymena town centre." A Mid and East Antrim Borough Council spokesman said: "Our officials are currently looking into the issue of the water main covers in Ballymena, so cannot make any further comment at the moment."

The Irish language row coincided with further uproar in Ballymena in recent days about fake flowers being put in to brighten up unsightly digging on the town's streets as part of the public realm scheme to install new footpaths.

The plastic flowers on Ballymena's streets are not fantastic, says Mr Gaston. He branded them a waste of money and questioned whether the placement of the flower tubs was the best use of public cash. "If the council wants to spend money to help the appearance of the town centre I certainly would be encouraging them to use that money to make the coned areas more wheelchair and buggy-friendly," he said.

Many traders and members of the public in Ballymena slammed the fake flowers as tacky but others praised the bid to take away from the unsightly look of the dug-up streets.

The council spokesman said: "The flower displays are designed to visually soften the impact of the ongoing works."

The council has not revealed how much the fake flowers cost or how much it could cost if the 'Irish' covers are replaced.

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