IN A LANDMARK decision the new Fermanagh and Omagh Council has agreed to have bilingual signage at council facilities.
Barring the Ardhowen Theatre in Enniskillen and the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh, which will have tri-lingual signage (English, Irish and Ulster Scots) all other external signage at council facilities will be displayed in English and Irish.
At a recent meeting of the council the matter was put to a vote, with the nationalist majority ensuring the motion passed by 24 votes to 13. The unionist opposition to the motion was based largely upon the possible extra cost incurred by the council for including the Irish language in addition to English.
Sinn Fein Omagh councillor Marty McColgan proposed that the council adopt the bilingual policy and he was seconded by Enniskillen party colleague Tommy Maguire, who questioned when the council will determine their policy on the Irish language.
First to voice his dissension was Enniskillen DUP councillor Keith Elliott, who centred upon the price of including the two languages. “Obviously there is going to be a huge cost to all of this surely to goodness.”
SDLP councillor Josephine Deehan called for clarity on the matter and supported Mr McColgan’s recommendations.
Erne West UUP councillor Alex Baird said he was amazed the proposal had came forward to the meeting. “Does it encourage anyone to learn Irish language? I don’t think it does. Is there demand for it?”
“The proposals do a disservice to genuine Irish speakers and enthusiasts,” Mr Baird added and asked that the council go ahead with English only on external signage.
UUP Erne North councillor Raymond Farrell asked the chief executive for the cost of including Irish on the signage. “Can I have a cost so that I can tell ratepayers who are concerned about the closure of facilities, staff losing jobs, early years programmes facing cuts, potholes not being filled what their money is going towards?”
Chief executive Brendan Hegarty said it was not possible to estimate the cost of the additional information. After questioning however, he said he would ask the company who will be responsible for the work to give a price for bilingual signs and for those with English only.
Erne North DUP councillor David Mahon said the council was already under “extreme pressures” right across the board and said he did not see the need for it. “I don’t see how our council can stand over the costs.”
He then asked: “How far reaching is this going to go?”
Mr Baird’s motion for English only signage was defeated by 24 votes to 13, while the bilingual vote was passed by the same margin, with all Nationalists voting in favour and all Unionists voting against.
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