Northern Ireland

DUP councillors question concept of Belfast's Gaeltacht Quarter

West Belfast is home to the city's Gaeltacht Quarter. Picture: Mal McCann
West Belfast is home to the city's Gaeltacht Quarter. Picture: Mal McCann

DUP councillors have questioned the concept of a Gaeltacht Quarter in west Belfast after a council committee agreed a cost-saving plan to erect dual language signage in the area.

Belfast City Council's Strategic Policy and Resources Committee backed a blanket bilingual signs proposal for the 417-street area's remaining 309 streets that have yet to have them installed.

Of those remaining streets, 48 have live applications for dual Irish and English signs.

Sinn Féin had proposed a blanket installation for Gaeltacht Quarter signage on the basis that there would be an overwhelming majority in the area in favour of dual-language signs.

This process would cost around £135,000, compared to a bill of over £359,000 for conducting individual street surveys.

The plan was put on hold earlier this year to allow for a "call-in" review, but the call-in was found to have no merit following legal advice.

A council officer told the committee a draft equality screening was made on the proposal, adding: “In any interface areas or specific streets of concern, members will be able to raise objections to engage the wider policy.”

Read more:

  • Gaeltacht Quarter residents 'disappointed' after council decision on Irish street signs halted for review
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  • Legal advice which stalled plans to erect Irish language signs at Belfast leisure centre should be disclosed, court hears

An Alliance proposal to have the threshold for objections to the process as one person on any given street was voted down. Instead, it will take 15% of residents in any street in the Gaeltacht Quarter to trigger a regular survey application.

While not voting against the plan, DUP councillors questioned the concept of a Gaeltacht Quarter in Belfast.

DUP councillor for the Court area, Ian McLaughlin, said he did not agree with the boundary for the area.

“When I first heard the term ‘Gaeltacht Quarter’ many years ago, there were two streets around Culturlann – it has grown substantially. I need to understand where these boundaries have come from," he said.

“Will this be capped at £135,000? If it is, we would probably be better to employ someone to spell the signs correctly, so you avoid a lot of nonsense when it goes to production.”

Mr McLaughlin said the area within the boundary was "basically republican west Belfast" and said he did not wish to see signs on peace walls.

“If they want to be a place apart, that is a matter for themselves," he said.

"But my point is that community relations will be impacted along the full length of the peace walls. I don’t think it is right that signage should be put along peace walls. Signs at interfaces can and will be divisive, and I don’t think the council is giving enough consideration to that.”

Lisnasharragh DUP rep Bradley Ferguson said he “couldn’t care less” if anyone wished to learn Irish in Belfast.

“But with the Irish language, there is an attempt by some to use it as a political football to beat unionists around the head with, and that’s where the backlash comes from,” he said.

“We talk about a Gaeltacht Quarter. Is there an Ulster Scots Quarter in the city? Better still, on the Cregagh Road where I represent, is the headquarters of the Orange Lodge and a unionist majority. Will we draw a line around that and call it an Orange Quarter?”

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite said he was “disappointed” over claims Irish created barriers, and highlighted the work of the Turas project in east Belfast, where activist Linda Ervine and colleagues prove “that the Irish language is open and welcoming for everybody”.

“Like so many things in our city, it does not have to be defined by political binaries. We have to be able to understand our city is a diverse place, and that this is not an attempt to make anyone feel unwelcome,” he said.