Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council votes on hiring Irish language officer

By Suzanne Breen

Belfast City Council is set to hire an Irish language officer after a public consultation showed majority support for the historic move.

City Hall is also poised to appoint a second officer dealing with Ulster Scots and other languages after the consultation showed support for the two officers' approach.

The council's strategic policy and resources committee will today vote on the proposal, with nationalists in favour of the move and unionists expected to oppose it.

Alliance holds the balance of power on the committee and the party's group leader, Michael Long, last night indicated that he would back the recommendation.

"We have listened to what the people of Belfast have said and it's quite clear - they want to have an Irish language officer, along with an additional officer for other languages," he said.

"Alliance is happy to support that. I hope other parties look at what the public have said and also decide to support that inclusive approach."

The Belfast Telegraph has been told that 61% of respondents backed the idea of an Irish language officer in the consultation.

A total of 53% of people were in favour of having two officers - including one specifically for the Irish language - with 40% against.

Only 28% of respondents were in favour of appointing one officer for all languages - an option which it is understood has support among unionists - with 49% opposition.

City Hall sources said that Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Alliance would join forces behind the proposal recommending that an Irish language officer and another language officer are appointed. If approved, the recommendation will go to a full council meeting on October 2 for endorsement.

As unionists are in the minority in City Hall, the resolution is likely to be carried. An Irish language officer would train council staff in Irish, support them in translations and provide services in Irish.

They would also provide support and training for Irish language groups in the city.

Mr Long said the two language officers' approach was an inclusive one which would save ratepayers money.

"Belfast is a multicultural city which is growing in its diversity. With that diversity, new languages take their place in our city and they all have an important role to play," he said.

The Alliance councillor said the Irish language shouldn't be a divisive issue.

"If Linda Ervine speaks it, if there are classes on the Newtownards Road, then I think that shows it is a language for everyone," he said.

"Unfortunately, despite attempts to get agreement from the unionist parties on the issue, they have informed me they will instead be seeking to have two general language officers for the council, instead of one for the Irish language and one for others.

"This approach would actually cost the public purse more, as Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge has indicated they will fund half of an Irish language officer themselves."

The DUP group leader Lee Reynolds couldn't be contacted for comment last night.

The Ulster Unionists declined to comment.

Progressive Unionist Party councillor Billy Hutchinson said the main challenge was to meet the needs of people in Belfast who don't have English as a first language.

He said his party would take into consideration the costs of "linguistic officers" and whether appointing them would involve raising rates.

The council's eight-week consultation on its draft policy on linguistic diversity ran from May to July.

Belfast Telegraph

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