Friday, 14 January 2011

A convenient distraction from the DRD's problems.

In yesterday's Belfast Telegraph I considered Conor Murphy's proposals for bilingual road signs, its divisive potential and the coincidence of timing which see's it distract from the Minister for Regional Development's bread and butter woes.
Has the Department for Regional Development not got enough work to do? Cynics will wonder whether it's entirely coincidental that Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy has chosen to publish controversial proposals for bilingual road signs just as criticism over the water crisis reaches a crescendo.
The issue is a useful distraction for the minister. His DRD consultation paper envisages traffic signs featuring either Irish or Ulster Scots alongside the English language.
A 'proposer' would petition the local council for bilingual "welcome signs" for their town or village, "supplementary plates" for warning notices (for example underneath the red triangles which warn motorists that a school is ahead) or tourist signs.
Murphy claims the policy would be of little financial consequence to his department because the proposer would bear all costs for altering a sign.
We can safely assume, though, that if the plan does go ahead, the public purse will not emerge unscathed. By the department's own admission, proposals are most likely to come from local councils themselves, or from managers of public facilities.
Then there are the expenses involved in consulting the public, not to mention the man hours wasted on drafting a paper in the first place, when DRD has so many more pressing issues at hand.
To date there is still no sign of spending plans which the department needs to submit to the finance minister as part of a draft Budget.
While the DRD starts a consultation on bilingual signs, its foot-dragging on finance means the public can't subject the draft Budget to similar scrutiny. We can contribute to a trivial and divisive debate on Irish and Ulster Scots until our hearts are content, yet offering an informed opinion on spending plans which will affect all our lives during the next four years is practically impossible.
Murphy's timing is attracting justifiable criticism from political opponents. But it is unlikely to bother him much. He's too busy playing to the gallery.
The bilingual sign policy will help rally Sinn Fein supporters around the beleaguered minister in his hour of need.
It is, after all, a hoary republican chestnut wrapped up in a set of politically correct new clothes.
Even the draft Equality Impact Assessment accompanying the consultation paper concludes the policy has the potential to damage "good relations between persons of different political opinion".
The DRD airily dismisses that criticism, maintaining that it will confine its proposals "to discrete areas where there is confirmed overall support for the signing".
In Northern Ireland, that means marking out, with supreme accuracy, which community is dominant in a given locality.
In fact it could well become a mark of loyalist or republican pride for an area to sport these signs.
It's as effective as scrawling 'Prods out' or 'Taigs out' on a wall, but it guarantees a row in the council chamber and costs the public money.
Could anything be better suited to Sinn Fein's purposes? The party can pretend to occupy the moral high ground, claiming it is fighting the corner for minority languages, while starting a good old-fashioned sectarian ruckus to distract from the bread and butter controversies afflicting its minister. It also neatly matches its preference for separation, rather than sharing.
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rutherford said...


Anonymous said...


The signs are either in English only or in all three 'languages'.

No Irish without Ulster Scots and no Ulster Scots without Irish.

That will stop tribal marking even if it does cost more!

Anonymous said...

Conseils tres interessants. A quand la suite?