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UKIP Representative Alan Lewis challenges Council Bilingual Policy
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UNITED Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)  Down District representative Alan Lewis has written to the Equality Commission asking them to review the bilingual policy of Down District Council saying all decisions should be deferred and brought before the new elected council in 2014 following the merger with Newry and Mourne Council and a full financial appraisal being conducted then.

He said: “Firstly this isn’t a bilingual policy… this is an Irish language policy. I question why the Irish language has been given equal status with English when according to the 2011 census results 89% of people in this district have no understanding of the Irish language. dn_screen

“Unionists in Down Newry and Mourne  area are now beginning to see how an amalgamated council will play out the evidence points towards a cold house for unionism. A document has been passing its way through Down District Council relating to a  framework for a nationalist-dominated council.”

Mr Lewis added: “I believe this policy actively discriminates against unionism, The bilingual policy states ‘Staff who speak Irish will be encouraged to use the language at point of contact‘. So, will a situation arise where Down ratepayers are welcomed to their civic building in a language 89% have no understanding of?

“The policy also states Council will support Irish language and cultural activities by facilitating events within the council buildings and venues”. Will unionist events be looked upon with such favour?  Will equal facilitation be made available to Ulster Scots groups? Will funding be made available to unionist groups on equal bases?

“This document states Council will ensure when planning all festivals / civic events consideration is given to the opportunity to promote the Irish Language as a component of these events. Is the rate payer seriously being asked to pump extra money into civic events solely to please the disgruntled few. How much will this cost to implement? Signage, staff uniforms, website redesign, producing bilingual documents, staff training courses paying an outside Irish speaker to answer a telephone enquiry in Irish, maintaining an index of dual language street names paying an Irish speaking council spokesperson? These are all questions that Down District Council needs to answer.

“Adding to expenditure in this way at a time when councils are being amalgamated is hardly sensible in the present financial climate. What exactly are the states of Down District Council’s finances? Have they not more pressing problem to deal with?”

“I would also like to know which community groups were consulted on this move. Were the churches, the loyal orders, the local marching bands, all the political parties consulted? If so, what did they say?”

Mr Lewis added that in a time of tight budgets, it seemed “frivolous” that Down District Council “has nothing better to do than spend money on a policy which will alienate unionists.”

“I have therefore written to the Equality commission asking them to urgently review this policy I am also calling on this policy to be deferred and brought before the newly elected council in 2014 with a proper financial analysis.”

A Council spokesperson said: “The Down District Council Bilingual Policy was accepted by the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee at its meeting on the 3 June 2013 and ratified by Council at its meeting on the 24 June 2014.

“The policy is to be implemented using ‘Progressive Realisation’ defined as the Council will take steps with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the Bilingual Policy using affordable resources. This acknowledges that some of the rights (for example public speaking through the medium of Irish) may be difficult in practice to achieve in a short period of time and  be subject to resource constraints, but requires the Council to act as best it can within its means.

“The Bilingual policy applies to all Council business and functions and is intended to deliver linguistic equality for all who avail of and / or provide Council services.”