Councils spend £23,000 repairing vandalised bilingual signs
COUNCILS in Northern Ireland have spent almost £23,000 in the past five years repairing and replacing dozens of vandalised bilingual signs.
Reports of damage to bilingual signs have rocketed from just five recorded by council officials in 2015 to 65 during 2019, figures obtained by The Irish News reveal.
Both English and Irish are used on signage by several local authorities in the north, but the displays have increasingly become a target for vandals.
Since 2015 bilingual signs have been attacked on 154 occasions across four councils, costing ratepayers £22,645.50 in repairs and replacement signage.
Many signs were defaced with paint and graffiti, others were sliced and torn down – and some were even damaged with a blow torch.
The worst affected areas were Mid Ulster District Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
In Mid Ulster, bilingual signs were vandalised 94 times since 2017 at a cost of £12,394. Newry, Mourne and Down faced a bill of £9,060.50 for 47 incidents of damaged signs since 2015.
Fermanagh and Omagh council recorded signs vandalised on seven occasions at a cost of £320, while Derry City and Strabane council had six damaged signs which cost £871 to rectify.
The details for the period between 2015 and late 2019 were revealed through Freedom of Information requests. Most of the north's 11 councils do not have dual-language signs and so were not impacted.
Recorded incidents and the cost of repairs have increased over the years, with five incidents in 2015 (£440), four in 2016 (£300), 39 in 2017 (£5,740), 41 in 2018 (£7,407.50) and 65 in 2019 (£8,758).
Many of the incidents were reported to police.
Last month The Irish News reported how police had nominated an officer to handle reports of vandalism of Irish-language road signs in Mid Ulster following a spate of attacks.
Council officials erected a temporary CCTV camera at Gulladuff, near Maghera in Co Derry, where one sign had been targeted a dozen times since February.
SDLP Mid Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone condemned the vandalism and said it showed a need for an Irish language act, which remains a key sticking point between political parties in efforts to restore Stormont power-sharing.
"It's cultural vandalism that shows no respect whatsoever for other people's identity. Those who are doing this are placing extra costs on ratepayers within their areas," he said.
"Here's hoping that we move to a point where we have a political agreement that delivers mutual respect and accommodation of both the major identities in the north."
Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA Carál Ní Chuilín branded the vandalism sectarian hate crimes.
"The Irish language belongs to everyone, and all cultures, beliefs and religions should be cherished and respected in our society," she said.
"The vandalism of any bilingual signage is simply sectarian hate crime, and the rights of Irish-language speakers and development of public policy should be not be formed around prejudices of a criminal minority."