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Belfast Live
Belfast Live
Tanya Fowles

Fermanagh and Omagh Council approves dual language signage funding

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has approved £150,000 funding to be ring-fenced for dual language road signage by majority vote after both unionist groupings voted against the funding.

The recommendations came within a report on expenditure proposals put before the Regeneration and Community Committee, and while the remainder was agreed, there was dissent on the dual language signage costings.

Ulster Unionist councillor Victor Warrington said: “I don’t want to get into a debate about this, and I appreciate it is policy, but it’s a policy we didn’t support. In a cost-of-living crisis, £150,000 per annum for two years in this current time is a lot of money.

Read more: East Belfast Irish street sign application sparks Council row over dual language policy

“I’m sure we’re all aware of the negative media coverage we took on the cancelling of the [funding for 2023 Hallowe’en] fireworks over the last couple of weeks.

“To be spending £150,000 - minimum, I would say - on signages, which a lot of people don’t want, is purely, in our opinion, a waste of money.”

However, Sinn Fein ’s Councillor Seamus Greene remarked: “I was wondering how long it would be until the Ulster Unionist Party reverted to type and attacked all things Irish. Of the money being spent, it’s the £150,000 on Irish language signs that is again the target of the Ulster Unionists.

“[Councillor Warrington] says a lot of people don’t want them, but I think by the results of the previous election, and the fact the Ulster Unionists lost councillors and Sinn Fein gained, maybe a lot of people do want them.”

Proposing the full report was accepted, the SDLP’s Councillor Adam Gannon told members: “Councillor Warrington said he didn’t want to enter into a debate on this - and then he went into a debate.

“The £150,000 for these signs was included in the rates estimates process, and Councillor Warrington and his party supported that process. He talked of the negative publicity around the fireworks being cancelled, but they also supported that in the estimates process.

“There’s a real disconnect between thinking and actions, in terms of maybe just trying to grab a headline in opposition to the Irish language, which I don’t think is the correct thing to do.

“It’s [the Irish language] there for everyone. It’s part of our shared heritage, and shared culture, and we need to celebrate and promote it. Generally speaking, I think the [Irish Dual Language] policy has been a success. Yes, there may be issues with it that we can iron out.”

He added: “Councillor Warrington also said a large number of people don’t want it, so it’s good the policy allows surveys with the community to see if it is wanted. Bear in mind it’s recognised as a minority language, and we need to protect and cherish it.”

Seconding, Councillor Padraigin Kelly, Sinn Fein, criticised Councillor Warrington for “making the Irish language political, when it’s not”.

She said: “I call on the Ulster Unionists and all councillors to stand against the hate crime of damaging dual language signage. We are out the money [for repairs on such signs]. I know for a fact it’s not just putting paint over them. Machinery is literally being taken.

“I would like to think Councillor Warrington and his party would come out against this. The Irish language was here long before him, and I want to make it clear it will be still there.”

Responding, Councillor Warrington said: “We have always condemned damage to any signs. We are not against the Irish language. There was mention of politicising it, and this is certainly something Sinn Fein are doing with these signs.

“In respect of the fireworks [cancellation], yes, we as a party supported the rates decision, but I didn’t speak about the fact that it had been cancelled. I said we are all aware of the negative media out there in the last couple of weeks.”

With dissension over the signage costings, the recommendations went to a vote, which passed 11-4.


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