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Irish signs must come down - Wells

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Irish signs must come down - Wells thumbnail

THERE have been calls for the bilingual council boundary signs at Rathfriland and Ballyward to be removed and efforts made to consult with residents.

The controversial signs, marking Newry, Mourne and Down District Council's boundary, have been the subject of several vandalism attacks.

The most recent was the third attack on a number of signs at Rathfriland and Ballyward in less than a year, with them being replaced by council staff each time.

In the wake of most recent attacks, which saw signs cut in half with an angle grinder, Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said in a statement it was going to "review its position".

However, DUP MLA Jim Wells says it would be better if the council removed the signs altogether from unionist communities.

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is dominated by two nationalist parties who constantly talk about the need to respect the views of all the residents of the area.

“The council had very little respect for the unionist residents in areas such as Ballyward and Rathfriland when it decided to impose bilingual signs on their roads," said Mr Wells.

He has been contacted by a number of local residents who he said are "angry that this bilingual policy has been imposed on their community."

“The signs should now be removed by the council and a formal consultation process initiated to get the views of all the local residents."

UUP Councillor Glenn Barr made similar calls for a consultation with residents, saying he would be willing to meet with representatives of the council to explain how the signs are causing continued tension.

“The realisation is that Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has forced this onto the Rathfriland unionist community," he said.

“There has been no dialogue with them. Are they just going to keep wasting public money and putting them up where they are not wanted?

“I would be more than happy to speak to anybody to help decrease community tensions. When this has happened for the third time, they need to look at it," he said.

In a previous statement to The Outlook, a spokesperson for the council said that due to the frequency of attacks on the signs, the council would "review its position with respect to vandalised boundary signs" and in addition they would "also hope the PSNI might be able to take action to apprehend the perpetrators."

However, contrary to these indications, no decision has been taken on the future of the signs.

Mr Wells said the council already has "a well established policy when deciding whether or not to erect bilingual street signs."

“This can only happen if a clear majority of residents want Irish in addition to English," he said.

“I cannot understand why exactly the same policy does not apply to the large signs which inform drivers that they are entering Newry, Mourne and Down.

“The SDLP and Sinn Fein overruled the concerns of the unionist councillors by erecting the signs without consulting a single local resident.

“They did this fully aware that the use of the Irish is an extremely controversial issue, as the language has been so blatantly used as a political weapon by Sinn Fein for decades," he said.

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