Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: City's councillors need to grow up

Belfast City Council is again making headlines, and for all the wrong reasons. In an unseasonable squabble, some members are rowing about the placing of a Christmas sign in Irish at the City Hall.

The unionists claim this is in breach of an all-party agreement on the vexed issue of signs, but a spokesman for Sinn Fein, which backs the measure, points out that the decision was agreed democratically.

To make their point, the unionists have stormed out of a meeting of the Historic Centenaries Working Group, when further discussions would have been more profitable than gestures.

The current row would be laughable if it was not so sad. Perhaps it is only in Belfast that councillors can fall out about a sign wishing citizens a happy Christmas. The city has signs in several languages welcoming tourists to Belfast, but a Christmas sign in Irish appears to be a sticking point.

This particular row will pass as soon as the Christmas season is over, if not before, but there are longer-term issues on the horizon. These include the controversial flying of the Union flag over the City Hall, and significantly, there will be a series of historic dates in the next few years, starting with the centenary of the Ulster Covenant in 2012.

City councillors are finding it often difficult to move forward in an era of cross-culture togetherness, as opposed to the sterile apartheid of the past. Even the youthful and usually sure-footed Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile made an error of judgment in not presenting a Duke of Edinburgh Award to a young Army cadet, for which he has tried to make amends.

Everyone involved in City Hall politics should reflect on whether he or she really wants to return to the worst of the past, where the City Hall was known sarcastically as the "Dome of Delight." This is a time for grown-up politics where the focus should be on peace and prosperity, and not sectarian squabbles.

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