Sinn Fein hails DUP mayor's 'leadership' for speech made in Irish
MLA says address at council event 'an important gesture'
A DUP politician who gave an address in Irish has been praised for his leadership by a Sinn Fein MLA.
Antrim and Newtownabbey mayor Paul Hamill spoke Irish when he welcomed nearly 200 guests to the Theatre at the Mill in the borough for a special Irish Language Week event last night.
To loud applause, thanking the audience and welcoming them, he said: "Dia daoibh agus failte mor chugaibh go Mossley Mill chun an cheiliuradh speisialta seo, Seachtain na Gaeilge."
He continued his lengthy welcome greeting in which he acknowledged everyone involved in putting the event together.
Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney was among those who appreciated the mayor's gesture.
"I congratulate him on his fluency. I was very impressed with the blas that he used and his turn of phrase, which was a particularly nice element of the evening," the MLA said.
"This is an important gesture, I think the mayor's use of Irish at this event shows mutual respect for Irish traditions and culture.
"Paul has demonstrated an act of leadership this evening and shown how we should go forward."
After delivering the greeting Mr Hamill took his seat in the sixth row to enjoy a night of Gaelic music, dance and poetry, which was performed by children from Gaelscoil Ghleann Darach in Crumlin and Gaelscoil Eanna in Glengormley.
Sean O Murchadadha, who was compering the night of cultural celebration, said Mr Hamill told him that he had been inundated with text messages in Irish.
"He'll have to brush up on his Google translate skills to reply," he joked.
In another light-hearted exchange, Sean told the mayor to "keep calm and don't panic" as he introduced a group of young people on stage to sing T. Rex's Children Of The Revolution in Irish.
Mr Hamill's gesture comes after talks to restore Stormont broke down due to disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein about legislation for the Irish language.
Mr Kearney, who said he didn't consider unionism or the DUP to be monoliths, praised the "decent, practical, pragmatic politicians within the DUP" who recognised there was no threat from the Irish language to the community they represent.
"The Irish language belongs to us all - it's as much Paul Hamill's language as it is mine," he added.
"They serve as exemplars of how all politicians should behave in our society."
However, Mr Kearney said there needed to be more political leadership within unionism if Stormont was to be restored.
"We are in very deep political impasse and in my view that crisis is deepening. Events like this demonstrate in a very inclusive way just how we can build common ground and build on that in the future," he said.
It's the third time that Mr Hamill has used Irish at public events in the last three months.
Speaking ahead of the event, he said he thought "it is only right" to address guests in Irish because he wanted to "be a mayor for everyone".
He also admitted that he had some help from a teacher at St MacNissius' Primary School in Tannaghmore in Antrim.
"She sent me an Irish translation and phonetic pronunciation," he explained.
"I understand why it's perceived to be a big deal by some, but that's not the way I approach it and I think the hype is regrettable."
Last night Mr Kearney reiterated that unionism had nothing to fear from the promotion of the Irish language.