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Storm over QUB refusal to put up signs in Irish

Queen's University

Irish language groups have reacted with anger and disappointment after Queen's University in Belfast refused to put up Gaelic signs around its campus.

An Cumann Gaelach QUB, an Irish language society at the university, demanded a meeting with Queen's management, as well as the re-installation of bilingual signs removed two decades ago.

And East Belfast Irish language activist Linda Ervine tweeted that she was "shocked" by the response of the university, while campaigners in An Dream Dearg also expressed disappointment. Previously there had been a number of bilingual signs at Queen's which had been erected in the 1980s, but they were removed in 1997 following a warning from the Fair Employment Commission (FEC) that they were incompatible with a neutral working environment.

In a letter sent to An Cumann Gaelach QUB signed by acting Vice Chancellor James McElnay, Queen's said it works to sustain a neutral working environment.

"The university, through its equality and diversity policy, is committed to the promotion of equality of opportunity. The university seeks to create and sustain a neutral working environment that values and celebrates the diversity of all its staff and its student body, in accordance with its charter and statutes," Mr McElnay wrote.

"Section 3.1 of the policy highlights the university's commitment to 'providing a good and harmonious environment free from flags, emblems, posters, graffiti or other materials or actions or language likely to be provocative, offensive or intimidatory'."

The group blasted the letter, adding it has "greatly angered" their members. "It is clear that the university authorities are of the opinion that Irish is 'provocative, offensive, intimidatory'," they posted on their Facebook page.

"We are sorely disappointed and greatly angered that this is the outlook that the university has and that he refused to meet with us.

"We do not accept this response.

"We will continue on with our campaign until the rights of the Irish language community are recognised on campus and demand an immediate meeting with the VC."

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, advocacy manager at Conradh na Gaeilge, said there are some "big questions" to be answered around the university's understanding of the "role of the Irish language".

"Their policy seems to contradict guidelines from international bodies such as the Council of Europe," he said.

"The correspondence from the university expresses their wish to 'create and sustain a neutral working environment', and indicates this is the reason for not promoting the Irish language on campus, which is totally out of touch with the clear advice from the Equality Commission, which states that the 'use of minority languages, particularly Irish or Ulster Scots languages… would normally and objectively be considered a neutral act that would not be discriminatory'."

A spokeswoman for Queen's said it will meet An Cumann Gaelach QUB.

She added: "Queen's University has a strong commitment to the development of the Irish language through courses offered in the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

"The university values and celebrates the diversity of all its staff and students and will be happy to meet with An Cumann Gaelach QUB."

Belfast Telegraph