Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Phil isn't showing much sign of a welcome

I was down in Dublin at the weekend. You're cruising along in silence in your car, soaking up the beauty of that glorious landscape just past Newry when suddenly the prim Sat Nav lady with her posh English vowels intones. "You've crossed the bawdah." Other than that, frankly, you'd hardly notice.

Of course the road signs change - kilometres instead of miles. And there's a bit more Irish on them. But Cead Mile Failte works in any language. Recession-savaged the Celtic Tiger may be, but it still goes out of its way to welcome visitors.

Up here we only want to welcome tourists on our terms. At least that's the message from Sinn Fein's Phil Flanaghan who argues that Welcome to Northern Ireland signs at the border are a waste of money. The money he says, could be better spent on roads, the filling in of potholes, the scything of roadside vegetation etc.

At first you think he might have a point until you begin to compute how much such savings this might garner for the public purse. Hardly enough to fill one pothole.

And anyway Mr Flanaghan's objections are not primarily about the signs. But about the border. He wants the signs mentioning Northern Ireland taken down. But going back to his economic argument, this would actually cost more again. We must be one of the few places in the world where even road signage is seen as having the power to offend.

Take all those signposts all over the country routinely daubed over or "amended" by various factions to remove reference to names or places associated with the other side.

Signs of pettiness? Welcome to Northern Ireland ...

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