I have no problem with the Irish Language. I think it should be taught and I think funding should be provided to ensure that it stays a relevant and dynamic part of our culture. It is an awful shame that it has become such a divisive issue and is often used as a political tool. I think both sides are guilty of this when really, it should be an issue that connects people rather than divide them.
Saying this, the announcement from DRD that it is considering plans for the introduction of bilingual road signs smacks of nothing more than political point scoring and electioneering.
Firstly, we don't need road signs to be bilingual. The overwhelming majority of our citizens can read English. Those that can't have no problem interpreting road signs because they are helpfully accompanied by graphics. Besides, you don't have to understand French to know what a sign saying "Paris 50km" indicates. Road signs are there to provide guidance in the clearest possible terms, they're not there to serve any other political purpose.
Secondly, there is no requirement for this action. It has been defended by some in Sinn Fein as the Minister just carrying out an obligation placed on him by the EU. Nonsense. There is no such obligation.
Third; the Money. No matter what SF may say, this will cost money. The consultation and debates will cost money, the provision of the signs (regardless of the mechanics of how they're paid for) will cost money. I'm not sure if Sinn Fein have noticed but money is a little tight these days.
There has been criticism from Alliance that the proposals will ghettoise some areas of Northern Ireland. Whilst I would maybe not use that terminology, I can see where they are coming from. The plans do not call for all road signs to be bilingual, it calls for the law to allow bilingual road signs in areas that want them. Surely SF must be able to see that this will once again divide communities that were only just getting to grips with normality?
And of course, there is an election looming up ahead. Sinn Fein are not a cross community party. They exist only to serve those who agree with them. Fortunately for them, this represents a large chunk of the community and as such, under the conditions of government, they will stay in power providing they pander to their base. This move is precisely that; a pander to their republican, nationalist base.
All of this adds up to a wholly sorry state of affairs from Sinn Fein and the Minister: A poorly thought through policy, hijacking an issue, ignoring the wishes of the 'whole' community in favour of a section and spending money that doesn't need to be spent at a time when we can least afford it.