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O Muiri defends council’s efforts on bilingualism

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

SINN Fein Councillor Barra O Muirí has defended Newry Mourne and Down District Council's efforts to promote its bilingualism policy.

In last week's Democrat, the former head of the Irish Language committee at Newry and Mourne District council, Mr Eamonn O Gribín described the google translate function on the council's website as "despicable".

This function allows users to translate content on the council's website into Irish. Mr O Gribín contended that this function is not appropriate as it does not make for a proper translation from English into Irish. He was particularly aggrieved at the translation of the Christmas message from council chairperson Roisin Mulgrew.

Mr O Gribín also said that having called into the council on a planning matter, he had to wait an hour for someone to deal with him through the medium of Irish, only to be told that the matter would have to be dealt with at a later date.

But, Mr O Muirí, who is still involved in the formulation of a strategy for the promotion of Irish in the council area, has said that the expectations of Mr O Gribín in relation to the council's bilingualism policy are unrealistic at present.

"I have spoken to Eamonn at length about this at different times," said Cllr Ó Muirí.

"He's saying that he walked into the planning office and nobody was able to talk to him in Irish.

"From a common sense point of view, if you surveyed everyone in a year who walked into the planning office and spoke in Irish - and I've asked the planning office this - they said there's been one instance in a year.

"So, if you applied Mr Ó Gribín's logic, and spend ratepayer's money employing someone in the planning office, I would guess that his next move would be that you would need someone in Building Control [who speaks Irish].

"And then you might need someone in Human Resources, and then you might need someone in every department."

Mr O Muirí explained that efforts are currently being made to improve the translate function on the website, as well as to broaden the use of language throughout the council area. He also called for a unified approach among all those interested in promoting the use of the Irish language.

"There have been months of meetings about how we can access Irish language on the website to the point that when the website does come out, it's certainly my hope that you will be able to click a button and you're going to be able to get all the services available in Irish," he said.

When it was put to Mr O Muirí that Mr O Gribín was clearly frustrated that this was still not in place, he said that it was not in place because the strategy "hasn't been finished yet."

"He [Mr O Gribín] is jumping through a loophole to say that 'I don't like it, because it's not yet there yet,'" said Mr O Muirí.

"[Or to say], 'I don't know what it's going to look like - but I don't like what's there, while it's being prepared.'

"It's a money matter, it doesn't happen in any council in the whole of the north. You have to stop somewhere - you can't pay for everything in the council's world to be Irish and English together.

"All the documentation, the sides of the bin lorries, all advertising, all signposts, all notices within council buildings - all of those things are bilingual.

"But to walk into planning and ask for somebody to speak in Irish - I think that's ridiculous.

"There are hard working people in the Irish language department, who come down out of their offices, who come away from their jobs, walk down into reception, meet Mr Ó Gribín, ask him what his query is, and they try and solve it in Irish, by conversing with him in Irish.

"In my ideal world, everybody in Newry, Mourne and Down District would be able to talk in Irish and English, and everybody who worked for Newry, Mourne and Down District council would be able to talk Irish and English.

"So, if somebody walked in with a query in English, it could be answered, and if somebody walked in with a query in Irish, it could be answered.

"Are we there today? No we're not there today. Will we hopefully be there in 10 years, or 20 years - I certainly hope so.

"I would share his frustration, because I'm an Irish language teacher myself, I'm raising a family through Irish.

"But there are two ways to go about it. There is either - try and keep a positive outlook on it, and do something about it, or there's put on your angry head, phone the Newry Democrat and give out stink about what's being done, or what's not being done.

"I just think that the Irish language community is better when it works together, and tries to find common ground, and tries to look at ways that we can promote the thing rather than sniping and backbiting at each other."

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