The DUP has questioned the boundary of the Belfast Gaeltacht Quarter, as Belfast council joins a working group looking at signs in the area.
During a Belfast council debate on signage for the Gaeltacht Quarter, DUP Alderman Brian Kingston said he would oppose the Irish language being displayed at the Royal Victoria Hospital and parts of the Springfield Road.
He said it “is a bit of a generous use of the term by Irish language enthusiasts, to say it is an area that is primarily Irish speaking”.
At the recent Strategic Policy and Resources committee, councillors agreed city hall officers participating in a working group established by Irish language development agency Forbairt Feirste, to look at the development of a signage scheme for the Gaeltacht Quarter.
The working group will include Forbairt Feirste, Stormont’s Department for Infrastructure, Tourism NI and Belfast City Council.
DUP Alderman Brian Kingston agreed to the working group, however he said “the Gaeltacht area is meant to be an area which was primarily Irish speaking, and I wonder if that would stand up to examination”.
He added: “We must bear in mind for those that want to increase the visibility of Irish language that this is a matter relating to identity and there are many people in our city for whom it does not make them feel comfortable.
“My main concern is the extent of the territory for which this is proposed. This point was made before in council. It includes the Royal Victoria Hospital, which is the major trauma centre for the city and wider region.
“When you go to the RVH there are enough signs to try and make sense of without having everything somehow in duplicate. It is important that it is a welcoming location for all.
“Also regarding the Springfield Road, particularly Springmartin Road down to Lanark Way, this is very much a shared area, a shared community in terms of residents and facilities. It includes Farset Enterprise Park, Whiterock Orange Hall, Belfast Metropolitan College, Springfield Primary School, Springfield Methodist Church, the Innovation factory and so on.
“The Springfield dam is at the heart of the new Forth Meadows community greenway. I could not agree to these being seen as part of a Gaeltacht area for Irish signs to be erected along there to mark all buildings.
“I cannot agree to the boundary of this scheme. I appreciate this is a proposal, but I would ask these concerns to be borne in mind, particularly around that part of the Springfield Road and also the Royal Victoria Hospital.”
A council officer and the committee chair, Councillor Christina Black, both confirmed that the boundary of the Gaeltacht Quarter had received “corporate endorsement” by the council.
The proposal by Forbairt Feirste suggests welcome signage on the main thoroughfares into the quarter, and directional signage for tourists and residents that cover the main buildings and natural places of interest.
Sinn Fein Councillor Ciaran Beattie, who proposed joining the working group, said: “We have corporately adopted the Gaeltacht Quarter as laid out, it is what the council has accepted. Many in West Belfast don’t like the name of the Royal Victoria Hospital, but it’s there, it’s a hospital. Signs are not something to die in a ditch over.”
Alliance Councillor Michael Long said: “We are simply asking people to be on a committee here to look at the particular issues of signage. This area has been designated as an area promoting the Irish language and I have no issues with that. Signage if it is promoted is something that could be useful for tourism and developing the cultural offering in that area.”
SDLP Councillor Donal Lyons said: “I’ve been listening carefully to Councillor Kingston, and I want to ask for some clarity. Most of his arguments seemed to be based on the fact that because there are public facilities in an area that they shouldn’t allow bilingual or cultural expression in terms of signage.
“Is he implicitly suggesting that we are pitting culture against public service? And for anyone to have any cultural expression in their area it would somehow imply we should remove public services from those areas?”
Forbairt Feirste wrote to the council stating: “We propose that a comprehensive signage scheme for the Quarter be developed, with the boundary as follows: the western boundary of Kennedy Way and the Monagh Bypass leading on to the northern boundary to Upper Springfield Road, on both sides of the road, up to Ballygomartin Rd and continuing on to Lanark Way.
“From there it should follow the Peace Wall, meeting the eastern boundary at Divis Street. From there to the southern boundary, leading to Durham Street/Grosvenor Road, leading to the city centre where Grosvenor Road meets the M1 Motorway. Then continuing down the motorway on the city centre side leading to Kennedy Way again.”