THE implementation of Magherafelt Council’s Irish language policy will bring more division than harmony, according to the DUP chairman Paul McLean.

Speaking following the withdrawal of Unionist members from a working group set up by the nationalist controlled council to promote Irish, Councillor McLean slammed Sinn Fein for “paying lip service” to the minority British community.

The DUP and UUP pulled out of the group at the monthly meeting after Sinn Fein recommended changes to a draft document, sparking a heated debate.

Unionists argued that they had been left out of the decision making process while Sinn Fein said unionists were just looking for ways to avoid supporting the Irish language policy.

Councillor McLean said while he respects the Good Friday Agreement he has an issue with the Irish and English languages being given equal status.

“Sinn Fein know very well how sensitive the Irish language is to unionists and therefore instead of forcing the issue on us as an Ulster British community I believe they have an opportunity to include us,” he said.

He said his party reluctantly took part in the working group and believes its proposals would not pass an equality impact assessment (EQIA).

“One issue the EQIA looks at is does it have any implications for harmony and for community. It is evident the implication of this policy brings more division than harmony.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McPeake described the unionist withdrawal from the working group as “regrettable, but not entirely surprising.”

“In recognition of the demands coming from a sizeable section of the citizens within our district Sinn Féin, a year ago, sought for the provision of an Irish language policy for Magherafelt District Council; a policy which reflects the increasing growth and awareness of the language within our district, a policy which meets the needs of those users of the language and who wish council to provide them, in some way, with the same services, rights and entitlements as those of the larger English speaking community.

“It is worth noting that the recently released census figures for those people who `have some knowledge of Irish language’ within the Magherafelt District Council area shows an overall increase from 17.54% in 2001 to 18.48% in 2011.