“A New Chapter” for language issues in Belfast

Alliance Group leader at Belfast City Hall, Councillor Michael Long, has expressed his hope that this is the time to tackle the issue of language across Belfast as his party launches its new language policy for the city at An Chultúrlann in west Belfast.

Councillor Long said: “For far too many years, the issue of dealing with various languages has been a source of controversy and unfortunately many political parties have used the matter as a political football. This has been particularly the case with the Irish language and we believe that it is now time for a new chapter to begin where politicians try to reach consensus on the matter.

“We believe that our policy document can help start a conversation, which will see practical measures introduced by the Council to recognise and support the value of diversity of languages across our community.

“We have chosen this location as it is named after Robert McAdam, a Presbyterian who promoted the language in the 19th Century, and Cardinal Ó Fiaich, which shows that the Irish language belongs to everyone.

“While recognising that English is the main spoken language in Belfast, other languages and cultures play an important role in our city. Alliance believes that public bodies should be required to assess the need to provide their services in languages other than English to ensure no one is disadvantaged.

“We particularly recognise the importance of the Irish language to life in Belfast and believe it should be promoted and supported.

“Alliance believes that a positive way to dispel negative images is to ensure that the Council introduces policies to reach out to non-traditional groups, such as Unionists. In recent years we have seen local initiatives where Irish language classes have been provided in areas where opportunities did not previously exist, and these have proven successful.

“Council outreach to state run schools would bring the rich benefits of language skills to many children and help ensure this culture is available to all.

“Spreading the reach of the language would be part of the role that we would like a new Council Irish Language Officer to have. This Officer will be an important resource to make Council services available to a wider audience. Council should also provide translation services, increased signage and language taster sessions for staff.

“We also recognise the importance of the Ulster-Scots culture and support the allocation of resources to promote it. Those who chose to use to do business with the Council in Ulster-Scots should be facilitated as far as possible.

“Belfast has been enriched through the many newcomers choosing to live in our city. We will work to improve the range of services accessible in minority languages while encouraging others to learn about and share in the diversity of cultures in our city. This would involve the development of a working group, including those from various ethnic minority groups, which would look at how we make it easier, from a practical viewpoint, for newcomers to become engaged with our Council and city as a whole.

“Alliance believes in a truly shared society and by developing appropriate policies on language and culture we can remove the barriers that prevent the sharing of our city.”

The policy document can be downloaded at,
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