Wednesday, 12 January 2011

An Original Development

The BBC reports that the Department for Regional Development is considering a framework for the introduction of bilingual traffic signs combining either English and Irish or English and Ulster Scots.

Despite the fact that the proposals envisage no additional costs being borne by the Department, they have attracted criticism from the various Unionist parties, with the TUV's Jim Allister lambasting their concomitant erosion of "Northern Ireland's Britishness", something that would presumably apply regardless of the regime under which they were erected and any exceptions to it.

Meanwhile, the Alliance Party's Anna Lo criticised the plans for not allowing for trilingual signs combining English, Irish and Ulster Scots, an omission that she said would lead to "clear tribal demarcations" (although it may well have been frowned upon for safety reasons).

And UUP leader Tom Elliott criticised the possible consultation costs.

One can only assume that the issues raised by Mr. Elliott and Ms. Lo could be adequately dealt with by not having any consultation and simply erecting Irish signs everywhere. After all, a very large proportion — perhaps most — of Northern Ireland's place-names are of Irish origin, and it is difficult to think of a single English transliteration of a Gaelic name that accords it much dignity (the photo above being a good example). Of course, that would hardly deal with Mr. Allister's point, but one can never please everyone.

On a more serious note, it is clear that the Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, is bending over backwards in order to please Unionists. Were he being bloody-minded about matters, he would have insisted on bilingual — or, indeed, monolingual — Irish signage everywhere, have made no provision for Ulster Scots and have made the taxpayer pick up the tab. As it is, he plans none of those things — and has been attacked by Anna Lo. You're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Those reading this blog from outside Northern Ireland may not be aware that there is a surefire way of spotting a Catholic church here: it is invariably the one without a board outside it proclaiming its denomination, since in many parts of the province any such board would, sooner or later, be defaced by bigots. Members of the Alliance Party would no doubt condemn that; yet when it comes to bilingual signage, one of the strongest physical embodiments of a shared future, they line up not with the minority but with the paint-bombers who are out to get them.

"Reasonable" stances are too often, the world over, the product of triangulation rather than philosophical commitment and, as such, the victims of the societies that produce them. In this case, the Blether Region is forced to come to the conclusion that "some of those liberals urnae much liberals".

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