Alliance hit out at Sinn Fein in Irish language signage row
A war of words has erupted over Irish signage in Belfast after Alliance accused Sinn Fein of trying to "ghettoise" the language.
Yesterday, Alliance councillor Michael Long welcomed a City Hall vote in favour of his party's proposal for a city-wide strategy on Irish language signage at Belfast City Council's leisure centres.
That sparked fury from Sinn Fein, which had proposed that bilingual street signs be put up at west Belfast leisure centres. But Alliance argued English-Irish signs should be considered in other parts of the city, not just the west.
"As a passionate supporter of the Irish language and supporter of language diversity, I think it is vital matters of signage are dealt with sensitively," said Mr Long.
"Unfortunately, Sinn Fein brought forward a proposal to have Irish/English signage at only two centres in west Belfast and ignore the rest of the city.
"They did this with no attempt at prior discussion and without even notifying council of their intention to raise the matter.
"Given that divisions over the Irish language has been one of the main stumbling blocks to restoring the Assembly, this was hardly a good way to address this sensitive matter. I think the attempt to place Irish signs only in west Belfast sends out a negative message that the Irish language only belongs to one tradition, when Alliance believes the Irish language is for everyone.
"Given that Turas in the heart of east Belfast is one of the biggest providers of Irish language classes in the city, it is ridiculous for Sinn Fein to try and ghettoise the Irish language in this way."
But Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile, a former Belfast lord mayor, tweeted: "Nothing would have prevented Alliance seeking a city-wide review of approach to centres while at the same acceding to the very modest call for IL (Irish language) signage, in line with existing, agreed language policy, in areas with an obviously high and growing concentration of Irish speakers."
The council voted to refer the matter to City Hall party leaders for further discussion.