Belfast Telegraph

Council agrees Irish language signage for two Belfast leisure centres

Councillors agreed the move at a special meeting at Belfast City Hall
Councillors agreed the move at a special meeting at Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Council has agreed to erect Irish language signage at two Belfast leisure centres following a special meeting at City Hall.

There will also be a public consultation on the introduction of bilingual or multilingual signage at other council facilities.

The new Irish signage, alongside English, will be installed at Brook and Andersonstown Leisure Centres, which are due to be open next year.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said the council has agreed: "To engage in a citywide consultation in respect of bilingual and/or multilingual naming and the type of signage to be used in the centres designed to have a citywide catchment, as guided by local consultation. 

"The consultation response will be used to review and inform decisions in respect of bilingual and/or multilingual naming and signage in each citywide centre and that regard will be had to the language needs of all citizens, as reflected in the consultation response; and to the installation of multilingual welcome signs in all its leisure centres with immediate effect."

The Irish signs at Brook and Andersonstown Leisure Centres will be subject to review following the consultation.

Sinn Fein council group leader Ciaran Beattie said: "The Irish language was preserved and saved by Presbyterians in this city. This language does not belong to Sinn Fein, it doesn't belong to republicans - it belongs to everyone in this chamber."

DUP councillor Brian Kingston, a former Lord Mayor, said that, while everyone should welcome that Belfast is a "multi-lingual and international city", the placing of Irish language signage "is not a politically neutral act".

Cllr Kingston added, however, that the inclusion of a public consultation on the issue is a positive step.

Over the last week, there has been public disagreement between councillors over Sinn Fein's origanl move to simply install Irish language at the two centres, with no mention of other council facilities elsewhere in Belfast.

Ciaran Beattie
Ciaran Beattie

Alliance councillor Michael Long accused Sinn Fein of trying to "ghettoise" the Irish language with the move.

He said the party's move to only place Irish language signs in west Belfast sent out negative messages that the Irish language only belongs to one tradition.

His comments were rejected by Ciaran Beattie who said the original motion had been proposed due to time constraints.

"The reality is that west Belfast has a very thriving Irish speaking community with a number of schools, youth clubs and an Irish language secondary school. We have a huge infrastructure in terms of the Irish language based in west Belfast," he told BBC's Good Morning Ulster.

"We have hundreds of streets in west Belfast that are bilingual, there are businesses all over west Belfast that are bilingual, even the Sainsbury's in west Belfast is bilingual.

Councillor Beattie said that if Sinn Fein proposed an Irish sign for Lisnasharragh Leisure Centre they would be accused of "weaponising" the language.

He said that he thought language like "ghettoising" was unhelpful and was "quite insulting to many".

Linda Ervine, Irish language development officer with Turas, which promotes the language, said she thinks people in west Belfast should be able to have bilingual signage in the area.

"I very much acknowledge it is a Gaeltacht area, with people speaking and living their lives through Irish, and they have a right to have their language displayed in signage," she  said.

But she said she is also sympathetic with the Alliance Party's viewpoint, that the signage shouldn't just be seen in one part of the city.

She added that other parts of Belfast are probably not ready for bilingual signs yet, adding  "it is still a work in progress".

"Maybe the city council need to have a think about what its position on signage is throughout the city. Should one part of the city that wants it be denied it? That's a very difficult situation," she said.

Turas, which means 'journey' in Irish, was set up in 2011 by Mrs Ervine after she and a cross-community group of women from East Belfast Mission and the Short Strand Community Centre took part in a six-week Irish language course.

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