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Irish language council sign welcoming people to Mid-Ulster is defaced

The Irish language sign at Portglenone Bridge which has been defaced. Picture from Twitter/Seán McPeake

AN OFFICIAL Irish language sign welcoming people to the Mid Ulster council area was defaced less than 48 hours after being put up, a councillor has claimed.

The sign, at Portglenone Bridge, is in both Irish and English and welcomes people arriving from neighbouring Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

The Irish wording has been obscured by black spray paint.

Two years ago, when Mid Ulster District Council was formed, elected representatives voted to put Irish first above English on its logo and signs.

Sinn Féin Mid-Ulster councillor Seán McPeake described the defacing as a "despicable hate crime" and said he had reported it to police.

Mr McPeake tweeted: "Despicable hate crime reported to PSNI -naked intolerance and bigotry towards @MidUlster_DC bi-lingual signage at Portglenone Bridge."

Mr McPeake told The Irish News he believed the sign had only been in place for "24 to 48 hours" before being vandalised.

He said: "Road signs have been vandalised in quite a few places but it is the first time that a gateway sign has been defaced."

Earlier this month, the council officially launched two language policies for Irish and Ulster-Scots, aiming to facilitate and encourage the use of both languages across the council area.

Mr McPeake said: "Unionists don't want to accept the new bi-lingual policy in Mid-Ulster and their opposition is contributing to an undercurrent of negativity."

There have been several rows on Mid Ulster council between nationalists and unionists about the use of Irish, including in September over the introduction of a dual-language street naming scheme.

In 2015, Mid Ulster followed Newry, Mourne and Down by giving Irish prominence over English on the council logo.

Irish also appears above English on headed paper and council vehicles.

At the time of the introduction of the council logos two years ago, the DUP's group leader on Mid Ulster District Council, Paul McLean, said the move was about "pushing Irish and running it down our throats".

The Irish wording of several signs in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area have been targeted with black spray paint since their introduction.

In November last year, The Irish News reported that there had been no formal investigations nor prosecutions in the previous five years for defacing a road sign in Northern Ireland.

The figures were revealed by DUP East Derry MLA Adrian McQuillan, who said he submitted an Assembly question after becoming fed up looking at signs for 'Londonderry' which had been vandalised.

The then infrastructure minister Chris Hazzard confirmed that it is a criminal offence "for a person to unlawfully and intentionally interfere with or damage a traffic sign" but said that there were "many difficulties in proving a case in this regard".

The PSNI said it had received a report of criminal damage caused to a sign in the Portglenone area on December 26 and that "enquiries into this are ongoing".

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