Northern Ireland

Campaigner quits Irish language stakeholder forum over council showing ‘little respect’ to translation standards

West Belfast campaigner hits out at council’s ‘scant regard for grammatical rules’

Dr Liam Andrews, holding the report of the Burntollet incident that he was initially to contribute to before witholding his account of the attack
Dr Liam Andrews.

An Irish language campaigner has quit a group engaging with Belfast City Council over its language policy.

Dr Liam Andrews was a member of the Irish Language Community Stakeholder Forum, but the west Belfast academic has stepped down over claims the council is not treating Irish “with the same respect” as English.

He claimed the council shows “little respect for either Irish-language standards or for a professional approach to the use of Irish which includes strict adherence to Irish legal terminology”.

His comments follow concerns he raised in 2021 over signage translated into Irish at Andersonstown Leisure Centre, which he said was “unintelligible”.

The council’s Irish Language Community Stakeholder Forum is made up of representatives from Irish language groups aimed at partnering the council in implementing its Irish language policy and wider language strategy, and providing “feedback”.

Dr Andrews, who campaigned to erect Irish street signage in west Belfast in the 1980s, said: “I have taken this protest action because Belfast City Council treats the Irish language as a second-class language and the city’s Irish-language community as second-class citizens.

“This treatment is in sharp contrast to the way the council treats the English language and the city’s English-language community. Council policy towards English is rooted in respect for English-language standards and for a professional approach to the use of English which also includes strict adherence to English legal terminology.

“Rather than treat Irish with the same respect, Belfast City Council does the opposite.”

His resignation comes as the council is installing bilingual street signs featuring Irish in an increasing number of Belfast’s streets, after a new policy making it easier for residents to trigger a consultation process.

Dr Andrews claimed the council has been advised that a translator’s “personal judgement” determined Irish language standards.

He said he raised the issue with council staff and said he wrote to the council’s City Solicitor in January, advising that he would quit the forum unless the issues were placed on the group’s agenda for discussion.

He said he had not received a reply, adding: “I therefore resign from the council’s Irish-Language Stakeholders’ Forum with immediate effect.”

Belfast City Council said it had responded to previous feedback from Dr Andrews and was “content that the Irish language translations we provide are of a high standard and are fit for purpose”.

“Our Irish Language Community Stakeholder Forum has provided feedback on both our Language Strategy Action Plan, due to be finalised shortly, and our draft Irish Language Policy, and their comments were presented to elected members as part of the engagement process,” a spokesperson said.

“A public consultation for the draft Irish Language Policy will open also later this year so residents, communities and other stakeholders can provide further feedback on the proposals.”