Belfast Telegraph

Irish signs for UU student unions comes under fire

Criticism: TUV leader Jim Allister
Criticism: TUV leader Jim Allister
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Plans to include the Irish language on all students' union signage at one of Northern Ireland's two universities is designed to make unionists feel uncomfortable in their own surroundings, it has been claimed.

The bilingual signage policy was given the go-ahead at a meeting of Ulster University's Students' Council (UUSU) on Tuesday night.

The university has four campuses in Belfast, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Londonderry.

UUSU said in a statement: "As with all student council policy, UUSU will be working with relevant departments within the university, and with the student body on the implementation of this policy, and will take into consideration the students' union and university's commitment to promoting good relations across the Institution."

It went on: "UUSU will continue to work with student councillors, the wider student body and key stakeholders in the implementation of all policies that have been passed by its Student Council."

However, TUV leader Jim Allister slammed the move.

He said: "Once more this is part of an orchestrated campaign to intensify the cold house for unionists atmosphere of the campus and to deliver both of our universities into that category.

"These are signs which are not needed for anyone's guidance around the university.

"They are deliberately divisive and consciously provocative for the purpose of causing unionist and Protestant students to feel like aliens in their own land."

Ulster Unionist education spokesperson Rosemary Barton believed the decision reeks of political posturing.

She said: "Sadly it is this level of behaviour that continues to politicise the Irish language towards a nationalist/republican agenda, as opposed to working within the management of an inclusive minority language, which everyone could feel ownership of.

"Unfortunately some people just don't want anyone of a unionist persuasion to feel comfortable in their own surroundings - how sad that is for the future of Northern Ireland."

But welcoming the new policy as "a positive step forward", Sinn Fein senator Niall O Donnghaile said it reflected the growing interest in and demand from Irish speakers to carry out their daily routines in Irish.

"It's important that we continue to promote and increase the visibility of the Irish language. Linguistic diversity, representing and reflecting languages, not least indigenous languages, are positive economic and social drivers."

Mr O Donnghaile, a former Lord Mayor of Belfast, added: "Irish speaking students are entitled to the same language rights as enjoyed by citizens who live their daily lives through the medium of English and should benefit from the universal advantages that will no doubt flow from this progressive move by the students' union council.

"Sinn Fein will continue to support the campaign for Acht Na Gaeilge which includes rights and legal protections for Irish speakers in the north, just as exists elsewhere on these islands."

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