Newton Emerson is off in a flap about bilingual signs, and, of all places, in the Irish News, which must be bitterly regretting contracting out its column inches to this "liberal Unionist". Indeed, he seems on this occasion to have forgotten to include any jokes, too — unless, of course, they are of the gasp-inducingly unintentional variety. Apart from making a false comparison of bilingual signage with "Welcome to Northern Ireland" placards marking the border, he actually uses the expression "bog-standard" to describe their "ethnic territorial marking". That one's sure to go down well with the Paddies.
But why show any tolerance of diversity when you can retrospectively legitimise criminal acts as giving the two fingers to Republicans? "It is hard to sympathise with Sinn Féin councillors on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council as bilingual signs are defaced in unionist-majority towns and villages," he writes, paying scant attention to the fact that such signs can be vandalised anywhere by roving teams of obsessives. "We can spare ourselves the sophistry that accompanies language 'debates' in Northern Ireland, such as how Irish belongs to everyone (except Gregory Campbell) or how most of our place-names are in Irish already (so why have bilingual signs?)," he continues — apparently oblivious to the fact that he has just made an argument for getting rid of the garbled and meaningless English versions.
This is surely a man whose ignorance knows no bounds, writing as he does that we think of incredibly diverse France as "solidly monolingual" (one suspects that the qualification about what "we" apparently think may have been smuggled in by the sub-editor). Even his attempts at compromise are weird, as he suggests that "The 'national minority' concept may offer a way around this. It is acceptable under the charter to take 'special measures' in favour of a minority, without this counting as discrimination against the majority."
No, Newton, no one is discriminated against by the existence of a bilingual sign. The clue is in the name. They may feel politically aggrieved by being reminded that their closest neighbours are not clones of themselves, but as long as the English remains, they are merely enriched.
As, presumably, is Newton himself, getting paid for this old rope.
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As an aside, the Blether Region noticed yesterday that the bilingual English / Ulster-Scots signs that previously welcomed visitors to the Ards Borough Council area have been replaced by monolingual ones since its merger with North Down. However, as "Fair Fa' Ye" does not mean "welcome", its sadness was held in reasonable bounds.