A UUP councillor has hit out at Newry Mourne and Down District after it “imposed” an Irish language sign on the area for the second time.
Glenn Barr, who lives in Rathfriland, condemned the vandals who recently damaged the sign on the Newry Road outside the Co Down town. The top half of the sign – in Irish – has been cut off.
It was erected by Newry Mourne and Down District Council (NMDDC) to mark its boundary with Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council, the mainly unionist Rathfriland falling into the latter borough.
“About 20 people have phoned me to complain about this sign since it was put up a few weeks ago,” Mr Barr said. “We asked Newry not to impose this on a mainly unionist area without dialogue, but this has been ignored.”
The last sign was partially painted out. He said an Irish road sign has also been erected at nearby Drumlough Orange Hall.
Kilkeel DUP councillor Glynn Hanna said that Irish street names were also “imposed” on his town.
“I would have concerns about an Irish language act if it was used to impose the language like this,” he said.
The same bi-lingual boundary signs had also been erected by NMDDC at unionist areas such as Ballynahinch, Killyleagh, Crossgar and Ballyward, he said.
“The only area where there is really no problem with them is in the Newry area.”
But NMDDC SDLP councillor Gillian Fitzpatrick defended the boundary sign, saying it was on her council’s property and that they were part of the council’s ambitious tourism plans.
“How can we promote tourism if this continues?” she asked, calling on anyone with information to bring it to the PSNI.
She called for anyone with information on the vandalism of the Rathfriland sign to bring it to the PSNI.
NMDDC Sinn Fein councillor Barrá O Muirí said there was “no excuse” for criminal damage and added that Irish “belongs to everyone, threatens no-one and must be respected”.
“Occurrences like this bring into focus the need for protection of Irish Language rights through Acht na Gaeilge,” he said.
“The Irish language is an integral part of the lives of a growing number of people who use it daily and their rights should be protected”.
Independent republican Davy Hyland said that the Irish language was not a threat to unionists and that “education” was needed to reassure them.
NMDDC said vandalism will be reported to police, the signs “will be replaced” and its position on damaged road signs will be reviewed.