BI-LINGUAL ROW OVER NEW GREENVALE LEISURE CENTRE

ONLY minimal signage in English will be erected in the newly refurbished Greenvale Leisure Centre until a bi-lingual row is resolved, Magherafelt District Council has decided.

Sinn Fein were forced to withdraw a motion on Tuesday night calling for signs in both English and Irish to be put up throughout the £3 million new-look Centre following threats of possible legal action from the DUP.

Sinn Fein chair Ian Milne along with Chief Executive John McLaughlin and Ulster Unionist vice chair George Shiels with the DUP’s Paul McLean are to seek separate meetings with the Equality Commission to “clarify issues”.

Sinn Fein had wanted no signs to go up in the Centre until the matter was settled, but back tracked on being told by the Chief Executive that the leisure centre could not open in three months time unless there was health and safety signage.

Proposing the motion Councillor Sean Kerr explained that he wanted members to accept it in a spirit of inclusiveness and give equality to an indigenous language.

He said the Irish Language policy was out for consultation and rather than erecting mono-lingual signs at this stage it would save the council money by going ahead and erecting bi-lingual signs.

But Councillor McLean argued that if Sinn Fein wanted to be inclusive they would have included Ulster Scots signage in their motion.

He accused them of preempting the outcome of the public consultation and said he had contacted the Equality Commission and was informed that the council would be acting prematurely if they erected the bi-lingual signage.

Vice-chair Shiels claimed Sinn Fein were simply trying to annoy and upset the unionist community.

He claimed most nationalists in the district “could not read it” and had little interest in Irish, and accused Sinn Fein of hijacking the language.

Councillor Jim Campbell stressed that while the SDLP supported the Irish language they had to be mindful of the public consultation.

He said if they went ahead now and agreed to the signage there would be no purpose to having any future public consultations.

Councillor Campbell recalled that there was a judicial review back in the 1970s to challenge a decision of the council to stop a Gaelic pitch being included at the then Queen Elizabeth Park.

Councillor Milne adjourned the meeting for a 10-minute break during which Sinn Fein reconsidered the motion and Councillor Kerr returned to say that they would be temporarily withdrawing it. He stressed again that it was brought in order to save ratepayers’ money.

Rejecting this Councillor McLean claimed the whole equality scheme appeared to be about removing signs of Britishness from flags right down to the gov.uk on council email addresses. “The whole thing is ludicrous and I will fight it the whole way,” he said.