Kerr hits back in Irish signs row

COUNCILLOR George Shiels' comments on Irish Language roadsigns are ridiculous, ill founded, ill informed, sectarian and scare-mongering, claims Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Kerr.

“I wish to respond to the ridiculous, ill founded, ill informed, sectarian and scare-mongering comments about the Irish language made during the course of a recent meeting of Magherafelt District Council and which were repeated in last week’s editon of Mid-Ulster Mail.

“First of all, it is certainly a matter of deep concern for myself and my party colleagues if anyone in our local community genuinely feels intimidated, scared or afraid to go out their door for whatever reason.

“Unfortunately in the recent past we have had several serious, sinister and very frightening incidences of intimidation which involved the use of potentially life-threatening devices which were left at peoples’ homes. I have condemned these incidents and do so again and call for robust action from the PSNI to apprehend those responsible.

“I fail to see how an innocuous road sign which displays the name of the road in Irish and English and which reflects the shared cultural and linguistic heritage of the area can be a source of intimidation.

“The vast majority of our road names are Irish names which are shown as mere phonetic renditions of what the original name was in Irish. By reacting to the wish of the people, Magherafelt District Council is merely restoring the original Irish names along side the English form.

“Council policy is that it responds to requests from the public for the erection of bi-lingual road signs by surveying the residents of the road in question.

“If the majority of the residents who respond indicate a preference for a bi-lingual road sign then the council erects the sign when it has been ratified by the council.

“Councillor Shiels would have been well aware that the signs to which he refers had been ratified in council as he would have been aware that there is usually a delay of at least one month between that and the erection of the signs.

“Had he been so concerned for the welfare of his constituents he then had ample time to inform them that a non threatening road sign would soon be erected in their vicinity: a road sign which was asked for by the residents of the road, which was culturally and linguistically inclusive and which was underpinned by the principle of equality.

“I certainly agree with Councillor Shiels that there is an issue of equality involved here and it is the issue of equality for those of us who perceive ourselves as Irish and view the Irish language and culture as an integral part of that Irishness.

“But instead of scaremongering. I suggest that Councillor Shields should try to alleviate the unfounded fears of his constituents by informing them of the shared heritage of our Irish place names.

“After all if it had not been for the foresight and open mindedness of two British Army officers, Larcom and Colby during the Ordnance Survey of the 1830's many of our place names would have been lost.

“They employed the most eminent Irish scholars of the time to record place names, their names in the original Irish, their history and their meanings and all of these are available in the Ordnance Survey office in Dublin.

“Indeed, a former head of the B Specials in Derry regarded them of such interest that he recorded them all in a book ‘Notes of the Place Names of the Parishes and Townlands of Londonderry’ 1925.

“None of these people who would not consider themselves to be Irish, nationalist or republican saw anything threatening or exclusive about the Irish language or our Irish place names.

“Magherafelt District Council should be rightly proud of the fact that the Irish language is at last being accorded its public and civic place, especially in the eyes of the seventeen per cent of the population of the district that speak and use it.

“As for Councillor Shiels’ suggestion that the disappearance of a sign was due to metal fatigue or having been eaten by micro organisms rather than an act of vandalism, I leave this to Councillor Shield to clarify.

“If it is the former, I suggest it is unlikely and if the latter then I hope that Councillor Shields is not condoning it by his flippancy.”