Damaged road sign leads to a war of words between South Down MLA Emma Rogan and Councillor Alan Lewis.
Following the damage to a bi-lingual road sign erected by Newry Mourne and Down District Council between Castlewellan and Clough, South Down Sinn Féin MLA Emma Rogan has asked Councillor Alan Lewis to clarify his remarks over “vandalism” done to the road sign.
Emma Rogan MLA said: “As opposed to condemning those responsible for vandalising to the Council bilingual signage at Drumcraw Crossroads, we have the bizarre situation wherein UUP Councillor Alan Lewis appears to be blaming the signs for being there.
“Councillor Lewis has said that he has pointed out the signs are ‘divisive’ and that they ‘will be targeted’.
“As a public representative, Councillor Lewis should be standing up against vandals and these petty hate crimes. He needs to clarify his comments on this issue.
“The Irish language is not divisive. It is an inclusive language that is thriving in South Down and increasingly being enjoyed by all members of our society from across the community.
“Those involved in these hate crimes will not succeed in their narrow minded and regressive agenda.”
Slieve Croob Newry Mourne and Down UUP Councillor Alan Lewis responded to the comments from Emma Rogan MLA saying:”Sinn Fein really are scraping the barrel with press releases. I won’t take lessons in condemnation from Sinn Fein. While they are at it they could condemn the name of their MP’s South Down Parliamentary constituency office, or the fact that their elected representatives gather yearly to commemorate convicted terrorists laying wreaths at illegal shrines which are dotted across this district. They seem to be have been Johnny-come-lately to condemnation.
“Any right thinking person should condemn vandalism. Of course I’m annoyed seeing ratepayers money going up in smoke over damaged road signs.
“For the benefit of doubt, these signs are divisive as they divide communities and are a waste of public resources. I believe the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“This isn’t about the Irish language. I’m supportive of such schemes as the Irish bursary through Council.
“It’s unhelpful to call anyone who opposes these ideas as bigoted or dismissive of the Irish language – that simply isn’t the case on my part. The commentary of some people via social media has been very telling, referring to ‘our sign’, ‘our road’, ‘our area’. This highlights the fundamental problem with bilingual signage which marks out territory and divides communities and causes tension.
“Nationalist politicians point out that, post-Brexit, any physical infrastructure on the border may be attacked by terrorists, but if I say bilingual signs will be targeted by vandals, everyone loses their mind.
“I was opposed to the proposal to push ahead with the Council’s Irish language strategy (2020-2023), despite strong objections from those who responded to the consultation.
“The consultation process had only 33 responses to a questionnaire and only three written submissions.
“The majority of responses were negative, raising concerns over recruitment process, fearing that NMDDC may favour Irish speakers over non-speakers, the marking out of areas with the divisive signs
“54.5 per cent disagreed in the consultation with the vision and a feeling that Irish was being “forced” on people. This is not a strategy to be proud of. It’s one that the majority of those disagree with.”
Newry Mourne and Down District Council has an agreed policy on bi-lingual signage. To date these road signs have not been rolled out across the various towns and villages across the council area as initially planned.
A number of these bi-lingual signs which have been erected have been damaged over recent years at considerable cost to the council… and the ratepayer.