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DUP mayor preparing for another speech in Irish 'happy to reach out'

By Suzanne Breen

A DUP mayor is to give an address in Irish tonight at a gathering for language groups and schoolchildren.

Antrim and Newtownabbey mayor Paul Hamill will deliver the short speech to welcome the audience to the evening event in the Theatre at The Mill in Newtownabbey.

It will be the third time he has spoken Irish at public events in the last three months.

Mr Hamill said he was delighted to be able to do so as he was a "mayor for all the people in the borough".

He said a nationalist friend who speaks Irish had initially helped him learn a few sentences and that he had also sought assistance with his pronunciation from a teacher at an Irish-medium school.

It is understood that Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge will be present at the event.

Mr Hamill said: "As part of Irish Language Week I am hosting an evening of song, music and dance to which a range of people from across the Irish language community have been invited.

"As mayor I feel it is right for me to say a few words in Irish at the beginning of the event to welcome everybody. I think it will be a great night and I am very much looking forward to it."

Mr Hamill said he had addressed an audience in Irish on two previous occasions recently.

"In December I went to Ionad Teaghlaigh Ghleann Darach, the Family Centre in Crumlin, and I wished them all a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year in Irish and managed a few other sentences," he explained.

"I have a good friend from a nationalist background who speaks Irish and he offered a little bit of assistance in advance, which was very much appreciated."

The mayor said he also made a short speech in Irish during a visit to St MacNissius primary school in Tannaghmore, Antrim, last month.

"I spoke to a teacher in the school and told her in English what I wanted to say and she sent me back an Irish translation with a phonetic pronunciation as well," he said.

"I practised it and then sent her my first attempt on WhatsApp and she worked with me to improve it." Mr Hamill said he thought the current controversy over the Irish language was unfortunate. "I understand why it's perceived to be a big deal by some but that's not the way I approach it and I think the hype is regrettable," he explained.

"If I'm invited to something or am hosting an event involving Irish speakers then I want to show them respect by speaking a few words myself.

"It has so far been much appreciated. I believe the role of mayor is apolitical. I genuinely want to be a mayor for everyone in the borough and not just for some."

Mr Hamill, who was elected on to Antrim and Newtownabbey Council in 2014, said he had not met any hostility from within his own community over his efforts to reach out.

"Nobody has objected or criticised me and I don't see why they would. The Queen started her speech at a banquet in Dublin Castle with a few words in Irish and I believe that was a good example to set. It's all just about showing an interest in and respecting other people's culture," he added.

Rejecting Sinn Fein's demand for an Irish Language Act during last year's Assembly election campaign, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."

Two months later Mrs Foster said thank you in Irish during a visit to Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry.

Last month talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore devolution collapsed over proposed Irish language legislation.

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