‘Attacks on Irish signs must stop’

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A Sinn Féin councillor has said the continuing vandalism of dual language road signs in Mid Ulster area is an attack on the democratic process.

Cookstown councillor John McNamee said over 90 signs had been vandalised costing ratepayers thousands of pounds to replace.

A special meeting has been arranged with local senior police officers for next Tuesday to discuss steps to address the problem.

“This situation cannot continue,” he said. “I have asked for a full update on the vandalism with costings from council officials.”

Councillor McNamee, who is Chair of the Regional and Minority Languages Working Group, stressed the signs were not put up in areas where they are not wanted as a request had to be put in to council followed by a survey of householders.

“A majority of people has to agree to having a sign erected at a particular location,” he explained.

But the DUP’s Paul McLean has hit out at Councillor McNamee that the removal of the signs was affecting community relations.

The Magherafelt councillor said in a statement: “Over the last number of months, the Sinn Fein group within Mid Ulster have deployed a so called new approach portraying themselves as the party for the protection of the people, the protection of the environment, and a party for all. However, nothing can be further from the truth.”

He continued: “When we closely examine the issue with the removal of some road signs, we clearly see that the problem stems when Sinn Fein not only railroaded the dual signage policy on the unionist community but went even further by ensuring that Irish is above and larger than English on all name plates within Mid Ulster District.”

Councillor McLean claimed no other council in Northern Ireland had gone to this extent and Sinn Fein “could not hide under the peacemaker disguise knowing full well that they caused the problem in the first place.”

“As a party the DUP condemn all wanton destruction not like Sinn Fein who pick and choose and have never condemned the wanton destruction of the past 30 years,” he went on.

He added: “We must not be fooled by the new faced party grouping who may have changed their tactics but definitely not their end goal. Unionists within Mid Ulster are constantly being isolated and undermined, our culture is being eroded, our celebrations are being hindered and all in the name of so called good relations.”

Councillor McNamee welcomed the DUP condemnation of the attacks.

“This is contrary to the party’s position a few months ago when at every monthly meeting of the environment committee they proposed that no Irish language signage be erected even though all applications had met the criteria of the council’s dual language policy,” he said.

“Following on from the DUP’s conference when Arlene Foster signalled a potential shift in the DUP’s mindset towards the Irish language, this is a positive change from the DUP in Mid Ulster who refused to condemn attacks on Irish language signage in the past.”