Wednesday, 29 January 2014

No Man is an Island

The Derry Journal has reported on new bilingual street signs in the village of Park. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the process is the differentiation made between "street" and "road" signs, one presumably being considered residential and one not.

Street signs are governed by section 11 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. Although that section stipulates that names be in English, it allows additional languages where residents are in favour. The rule has already caused problems. For example, in August 2013 there was a political dispute on Fermanagh District Council about whether the name Crannog Way should be written with an accent or not, with Unionists complaining that having one meant that the monolingual sign was in Irish rather than English (they had obviously never heard of syntax). Dean Swift's satires about high heels and boiled eggs spring to mind.

The section also discourages the use of bilingual signs because organising a local plebiscite costs councils money.

Not only that, in the case of routes with few or no residents, there is no way to have bilingual signs. The legislation is therefore partly responsible for making the language more political than it need be — in essence making a reality of the Unionist trope that any use of the Gaelic is about marking out territory. It also stands in marked contrast to arguments advanced by the likes of the Orange Order, and apparently accepted by the UK Government, that "the Queen's highway" is for everyone's equal enjoyment, even where it offends others.

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