Bi-lingual roadside signs erected by Newry Mourne and Down District Council have been defaced in Ballygowan and Ballyward.
Local councillors have on occasions in the Council chamber exchanged their strong views on the use of the Irish language over Council signage on anything from note paper and business cards… and to street signs in areas that are distinctly Protestant/Unionsist.
And now Councillor Patrick Brown (Alliance) has condemned the perpetrators who damaged the signs.
He said: “It is an act of sectarian vandalism.
“The sign, located on the Ballygowan road outside Saintfield at the boundary with Ards and North Down Council, is the 4th one across the District in the last two weeks, to be damaged. They are all smeared with black paint over the Irish part of the sign, and this was the first one in the Rowallane area.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that this Council property has been maliciously damaged in what I can only describe as an act of sectarian vandalism. The Council made a democratic decision to provide bilingual signage and like it or not this sort of behavior, which only damages the ratepayer’s pocket in terms of replacement costs, is not going to change that.
“It also does not help that during the district wide roll out of these signs, Unionist representatives from both the TUV and DUP have consistently acted with an irresponsible intransigence around this issue, saying things like ‘ if biglingual signs go up in unionist areas, they won’t last 24 hours’. I hope that now that a pattern of sectarian vandalism is starting across the District, that these same Councillors will join with me in condemning the damage, and urging others to do the same”.
Cllr. Brown added: ‘I actually had one of my election posters in Newcastle sprayed with black paint during the Assembly election. The perpetrators of these silly acts seem to think by covering something up with paint they can make it go away, but it didn’t affect me one bit and it isn’t going to stop the council delivering on their bilingual policy”.
Only last year Councillor Billy Walker (DUP) said at a council meeting that the signs would likely be damaged in strongly Protestant areas. Commenting on the damage to the signs, he added: “Any damage to Council property must not be tolerated.
“I wholeheartedly condemn the damage to the bilingual signs whether it be on street signs or on council property and buildings. It is the ratepayers who ultimately have to foot then bill for this. But as Unionists in the Council chamber, the eight Unionist councillors did caution against the use of the Irish language in signs across the district.
“The DUP certainly condemn this vandalism. And to be honest, you don’t hear the same councillors condemning the defacing of Orange halls as has happened this weekend.”
Also, Independent Councillor Patrick Clarke has also strongly condemned those responsible for recently spraying graffiti on the Council’s new corporate bilingual boundary signs near Ballyward.
He said: “I have received a number of complaints over recent days about the recent defacing and vandalism of a newly erected corporate Newry Mourne and Down District Council boundary bilingual signage along the Ballyward Road near Ballyward.
“Ballyward and surrounding townlands moved into a brand new district electoral area named Slieve Croob as well as moving from the old Banbridge Council into Newry Mourne and Down District Council.
“New bilingual Council signs were erected on the Ballyward Road, Ballyward outside Castlewellan to mark the new Council boundary area when entering Newry Mourne and Down District Council.
“I am very deeply concerned that the new bilingual signs along the Ballyward Road and in other areas are being deliberately defaced as some form of legitimate protest to the new bilingual signs in both Irish and English.
“It serves absolutely no purpose to desecrate these new biilungual Council signs.
“I would also remind and urge all politicians to show political leadership particularly at this time of year by the use of their language in condemning the damage and vandalism to these signs.
“The new bilingual Council signage is designed to represent both the diversity and cultural richness of both traditions and also to promote Newry Mourne and Down as a tourism attraction destination.
“As the damage of these new bilingual Council signs is now a criminal matter anyone who has any information regarding the recent damage to the new signage should also pass onto the PSNI.”