Belfast Telegraph

Minister who axed boat's Irish name 'bigoted' and 'anti-Irish', says Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly

By Jonny Bell and Rebecca Black

Gerry Kelly has described Michelle McIlveen's decision to change the name of a boat from Irish to English as "bigoted" and "anti-Irish".

The DUP's Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister changed the name of the fisheries protection boat from Irish to its English equivalent.

Banrion Uladh was the name of the vessel that patrols the Irish Sea as far south as Anglesey and as far north as Lough Foyle. It has been changed to Queen of Ulster.

The department said the change was made as part of routine maintenance and no extra expenditure was involved.

Senior Sinn Fein member Gerry Kelly responded to the matter on Friday morning.

He tweeted to say the decision was "beyond petty".

"It's downright bigoted. It's anti Irish," he said

In response a DAERA spokeswoman said: “DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy. 

"There have consequently been some necessary adaptations to assets transferring to the new Department. The change of lettering was carried out at a scheduled annual maintenance event involving repairs, repainting and antifouling.”

DUP MLA Edwin Poots called the reaction to the change as "hysterical".

He said: "When asked about this change of lettering the Minister outlined that it occurred during scheduled maintenance and came at no additional cost to the public purse. The Minister has decided this newly created department will have a single language policy in order to make best use of scarce resources.

"The reaction from some quarters has been nothing short of hysterical but people will make their own judgement about Gerry Kelly referring to anyone as bigoted, particularly when the previous tweet on Mr Kelly’s timeline is celebrating IRA prisoners escaping from the Maze, an event which resulted in the death of a Prison Officer."

More: Row erupts after DUP minister changes name of boat from Irish to English

The boat transports officials with powers to board fishing boats to check if they are complying with EU quotas.

It was launched in 2010 by then Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew, and its Irish name sparked annoyance among DUP MLAs.

Upper Bann Sinn Fein MLA Catherine Seeley voiced her party's ire earlier this month when she submitted an Assembly question demanding to know the cost of changing the boat's name.

She also asked Ms McIlveen to explain her "rationale for the decision", and whether any consultation on the name change had taken place.

Ms McIlveen pointed out that Ms Gildernew had not carried out a consultation when she named the boat back in 2010. The Strangford MLA also clarified that there had been no additional cost for changing the name.

"The change of lettering was carried out at a scheduled annual maintenance event involving repairs, repainting and anti-fouling," she said in the response.

Ms McIlveen also announced that her department would have a single language policy, moving away from the Sinn Fein ministers' approach where communication was done in both English and Irish.

"DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy. There have consequently been some necessary adaptations to assets transferring to the new department," she said.

"The name of the patrol vessel was a matter for the former minister at DARD (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development) Michelle Gildernew and was not an issue for consultation."

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