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‘This shouldn’t be a sign of the times’

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

‘This shouldn’t be a sign of the times’ thumbnail

NEWRY City Councillors Davy Hyland and Gary Stokes were united in denouncing vandals who defaced a dual language council road sign on the Tandragee Road last week.

The Irish language on the sign was spray painted over at some point last weekend, an act that Cllr Hyland described as "infantile" and which drew widespread criticism within the community.

In expressing his disappoint at the act, the independent councillor said: "Similar attacks have been made on signage in other parts of the district, namely in the East Down area, but it's clear now that that has spread to other parts of the district - closer to the border - which is very disappointing.

"It's infantile as these people see the Irish language as an attack on their culture when, in reality, people should be sharing culture.

"For instance, I don't see Ulster Scots as being a threat to the people who class themselves as nationalists or Republicans."

Cllr Hyland said that the cost of repairing or replacing the defaced sign would ultimately be imposed on the ratepayer, therefore adding to the futility of the exercise.

"It's costly enough," he added. "I know that some of the signs in East Down were systematically cut down using mechanical equipment to do that, so it wasn't done on the spur of the moment, it was thought out."

Cllr Hyland believes councillors from the Unionist community need to be more vocal in publicly decrying acts of vandalism such as this.

"The other thing is, and I was disappointed, the Unionist councillors have this sort of attitude, 'We told you this sort of thing was going to happen', where I think they should be taking a much more pro-active stance. They're sort of justifying it by saying, 'I told you so'."

SDLP Councillor Gary Stokes, in lambasting those responsible for the vandalism, also lamented what he called a "politicising" of the Irish language by both sides of the political spectrum.

 "It's terrible that the language is politicised from both ends, I mean, you have people using it as a political football and it belongs to everybody on the island of Ireland," he said.

"You don't have to go go back very long when both Protestants and Catholics spoke Irish and, in fact, it was a Protestant in the 19th century who headed up organisation of the Gaelic League and the revival of the Irish language.

"It's a matter of culture and it's very sad. I think it shows a lack of understanding of a language that has been spoken for millennia on the island of Ireland as something foreign and something to be abused."

Mr Stokes remarked that the dual-lingual policy had been in place for many years without issue.

"There's been a dual language policy in the old Newry and Mourne Council for many decades and, in fairness, it's worked quite well and people have been very accepting of it."

On the cost of fixing or replacing damaged or defaced signs, the SDLP Councillor said: "It's very expensive and, ultimately, it's costing me, you and other ratepayers who have to pay for it. It's money we could be spending on new leisure centres and provisions of services instead of having to replace or repair vandalised signs.

"At the end of the day, it's an act of pure vandalism no matter what way you look at it. Certainly if anyone has any information they should report it to the police and I'd also call on political leaders of all parties to avoid politicising the Irish language, either for or against, as it's something for us to cherish," added Mr Stokes.

A spokesperson for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said: "Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's boundary sign on the Tandragee Road was defaced with black paint and has been removed for repair.

"The Council has managed 26 vandalism incidents to its Boundary Signage since they were erected during 2016.

"The Council recorded seven vandalism incidents during 2016 and 19 vandalism incidents for 2017 to date.

"Replacement signage is produced with an anti-graffiti laminate sheet and the cost of repair varies depending on extent of vandalism. The maximum value of replacing a boundary sign is approximately £283.00 and all incidents of vandalism are reported to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)."

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