Ben Lowry sounded alarm bells when writing in his column, Sat, March 27th ‘There should be no Irish Language act, but it’s too late—DUP agreed it . He further commented “ The Irish Language will be key to the push to make N.I. unrecognisable as part of the U.K. Adding “ Wait until you see how Belfast’s radical new Irish Language sign policy is seized on by republicans “.
This is potentially a terrible development for unionists coming at a time when the unionist community already feels betrayed and let down. Having made enquiries and talked to Academics and other knowledgeable commentators I am convinced that there is justification for the alarm and I fear there is evidence of unionist compliance with an Irish language Act that is firmly in our faces and designed to further erode the Britishness of Northern Ireland.
My understanding is that the Executive are overseeing preparations to process Irish Language signs through instructions to the respective departments and local Councils . Millions of pounds will be spent on signage on streets, roadways, motorways, train and bus stations and all government sponsored buildings including Belfast City Hall. Clearly Sinn Fein believe that they have the green light to press ahead with Irish Language signage across our cities, towns and villages.
The one potential saving grace is that unionism now has new leaderships about to take office and ample evidence on the ground that grass-roots unionists will simply not tolerate and further diminution of their identity. Can we therefore get answers to the following questions:
When will we see the draft Bill ?
Will the unionist leaderships categorically confirm that any Bill that surpasses or contravenes the language provisions in the Belfast Agreement will not be countenanced ? including that Irish Language signs will not be erected in Belfast and across the country? Remember, the use of including Ulster-Scots is not an acceptable compromise and will be perceived as a Trojan Horse.
Will the Executive confirm if any process to prepare for the erection of Irish Language signs is underway including if Irish Language experts at Queens University have been commissioned to translate existing English signage into Irish?
Edwin Poots and Doug Beattie along with their MLAs and Councillors must publicly commit to voting down any Bill that breaches the Agreement and requires public bodies (and potentially private bodies) to promote the use of the Irish Language including signs. This issue may well determine who speaks for unionism after the next election and is every bit a threat to peace as is the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Jim Wilson, Chair , REACH UK, Belfast