Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein 'voter' criticises party for election broadcast in Irish when majority won't understand it


Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill joins Irish speakers at Stormont to campaign for an Irish Language Act
Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill joins Irish speakers at Stormont to campaign for an Irish Language Act

Sinn Fein has defended its decision to deliver a party election broadcast entirely in Irish.

The broadcast aired on BBC Radio Ulster on Thursday morning.

While the party regularly does election broadcasts in Irish in the Republic, it’s thought to be the first time it has happened in Northern Ireland.

The Irish language has become an increasingly contentious issue in Northern Ireland in recent years, with Sinn Fein vowing they will not return to Stormont without a stand-alone Irish Language Act, which is opposed by the DUP and UUP.

One caller to the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show, Brian from west Belfast, claimed that he was a Sinn Fein voter and criticised the party’s decision because he and other party supporters were unable to understand it.

Brian told the show that he felt the Irish language was a “great language”, but “the majority of people in west Belfast don’t speak Irish”.

He said that while he wished he could speak Irish, he wanted to hear the party’s policies in a language he could understand.

“The great majority of people who support Sinn Fein and vote for them ... don’t speak any Irish,” Brian said.

Another caller, Ronnie in Belfast, described it as a “deliberate attempt not to reach out”.

TUV leader Jim Allister said that unionists “wouldn’t care” if they could understand the broadcast or not.

The North Antrim MLA speculated that some of Sinn Fein’s leaders and MLAs would be “equally unreached”.

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Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile

Sinn Fein Senator Niall O Donnghaile said that Sinn Fein were given three election broadcast slots by Radio Ulster and decided to deliver one in Irish to cater for speakers of the language.

The party’s first election segment has already been broadcast in English.

He denied the party wanted to exclude anybody from understanding the broadcast.

“There’s a whole lot of people and a growing number of people who do [speak Irish],” he told the Nolan Show.

He said it was a “modest step forward” and “the more of it the better”.

Mr O Donnghaile said there was “nothing really you can do” about Sinn Fein supporters who don’t understand Irish.

“The BBC and other broadcasters afford other opportunities for election broadcasts to go out,” he said.

The former Belfast councillor pointed out that BBC Radio Ulster also broadcasts Irish language programming.

“It’s a positive step forward that we as party take the opportunity to engage with people who want to live their lives with Irish,” he said.

Mr O Donnghaile said that there is “lots of unionists who speak the Irish language”.

“There’ll be other opportunities for people who don’t speak the Irish language, who don’t understand it to actually hear our message in another way,” the former Lord Mayor said.

A Sinn Fein spokesman added: “We used one of our party election broadcast slots to recognise and respect the vibrant and growing Irish language community across the north.

“This is the first time any political party has done this in the north on BBC, but it is the norm in elections in the 26 counties, where political parties regularly produce Irish language broadcasts.”

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