Northern Ireland

Report states creation of 'Ulster British commissioner' could add to sectarianism

A report from the Council of Europe has raised concerns about the creation of a commissioner for the Ulster British tradition.
A report from the Council of Europe has raised concerns about the creation of a commissioner for the Ulster British tradition.

A human rights organisation has warned that establishing a new commissioner for the "Ulster British" tradition could contribute to sectarianism.

The report from the Council of Europe (CoE) has advised instead for an increase of bilingual signage in Northern Ireland to promote a more shared environment.

Comprising of 46 member states and founded in 1949, the CoE made the comments in a new report about how the UK is protecting national minorities.

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The BBC report that council members visited Northern Ireland last year as well as holding meetings with members of devolved administrations across the UK.

The report follows proposals to establish commissioners for both the Irish language and the Ulster Scots and British tradition, as set out in The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act which was passed in Westminster in 2022.

Despite approving of the new legislation, the CoE stated: "These proposals further contribute to the sectarianism surrounding cultural questions."

"The naming of a commissioner for Ulster Scots as for the Ulster Scots and the Ulster British tradition unnecessarily conflates this minority identity with a distinct political one, for example," the report said.

"The legislative conflation of Ulster Scots and Ulster British may unnecessarily provoke instrumentalisation of this group for political ends in the context of Northern Ireland."

It continued: "With regard to education, public signage and media, for example a comprehensive Irish language act is still necessary to provide legal certainty and transparency".

The report also acknowledged that Ulster Scots representatives highlighted "insufficient state support for their language," and that most of their time and resources were spent "defending their interests from political debate".

Those promoting the Irish language told the council of the problems they faced in putting up more bilingual street and road signs in certain council areas.

The report stated that a "transparent and consistent approach" was needed across all councils over bilingual signs as it "conveys the message that a given territory is shared."

While calling for more places in integrated schools and support for Irish-medium education, the report said other children in Northern Ireland "fear the prospect of integration".

"Education remains split along religious lines, and there is evidence that children growing up in these contexts fear the prospect of integration - such is the weight of history and conflict on society," it read.

While advocating for a "fully integrated education system," the council also said that arrangements for ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland are "particularly alarming".

Attempts by Stormont to develop a racial equality strategy were also criticised as lacking enough funding and firm commitments.

A tendency of Stormont to focus on the legacy of the Troubles also led to ethnic minorities being overlooked, the report said.

In addition, a blind spot for Northern Ireland's Muslim and Jewish communities was highlighted as  well as a strategy to challenge discrimination facing Roma and Irish Travellers.