UUP councillors in Irish language row walkout say it was protest at being ignored
Ulster Unionist councillors have hit back over criticism of their walkout from an Irish language event.
Walter Lyons, Desmond Patterson and Robert Burgess have been slammed for leaving a meeting of Down Council before an address by Irish language development officer Linda Ervine on Monday.
Mrs Ervine – wife of former PUP leader Brian Ervine – had been invited to the council to deliver a presentation about the hidden history of Protestants and the Irish language.
The three Ulster Unionists said their walkout was justified because they were being "ignored" by the council over the promotion of the Irish language.
They pointed out that streets in the district only need a majority of people to be in favour to get Irish street signs, while in most other councils – including Belfast – two-thirds of the street must approve. Mr Lyons said: "Over the past number of years the council has totally ignored the unionist view on the Irish language and the flying of flags.
"It used to be 70% of the replies had to be in favour of the street signs.
"They changed that to the majority of the replies, so they could have 20 houses contacted and three people reply, and if two of those wanted the Irish sign on their street, it would be granted.
"Then we have the Irish language being forced upon us at the new council offices – £30,000 of ratepayers' money was paid to put Irish on the signs.
"Nationalists voted that Irish would be the first language, English the second and then Braille. So we just felt that somewhere along the line we have to make a stand."
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has criticised Belfast City Council's approach to Irish language street signs, saying it should be a simple majority of residents in favour required, instead of two-thirds.
Since last April there have been 17 applications for dual language signs in Belfast. Of these, 14 have been approved, two are pending and one failed. The failed one was in Ballymurphy Drive and is currently the subject of a High Court challenge by resident Eileen Reid.
Sinn Fein councillor Caoimhin Mac Giolla Mhin said: "Fifty-two people responded in favour of erecting a bilingual street name in Eileen Reid's street in Ballymurphy. Only one person objected.
"This 52-1 result shows a clear willingness in this street to have dual language street signage.
"However, current council policy marked those who did not respond as being against the erection of the bilingual sign.
"This is clearly unjust. The fact that Belfast City Council will not accept the wishes of a majority of respondents is quite bizarre."