By Alan Healy
THE rights of people who use Ulster Scots would not be impacted if Derry’s council decided to remove it from all its signing and branding, it has emerged.
The information came to light earlier this week during a discussion on the future of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s existing language policies in respect of Irish and Ulster-Scots.
A report was brought before Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee, where councillors were presented with three options on future policies.
Speaking at the meeting, Ellen Cavanagh, Lead Democratic Services and Improvement Officer with the council, said that the council introduced policies for Irish and Ulster-Scots in April 2015, which set out a range of commitments to promote Irish and Ulster-Scots in public life.
She added that Derry City and Strabane District Council is the only one of eleven in the North which has a trilingual policy in respect of corporate branding and signage, meaning that it features English, Irish and Ulster-Scots.
In January 2017, the council passed a resolution to ‘initiate a comprehensive policy review on language usage including corporate branding and signage’.
A cross-party Working Group was then established made up of Sinn Fein’s Maolíosa McHugh, the SDLP’s John Boyle DUP councillor David Ramsey, the UUP’s Derek Hussey and the independent councillor Gary Donnelly.
Three options were then presented at the meeting, the first being that council retain its existing policy which would see the council’s corporate brand remaining trilingual (English, Irish and Ulster-Scots) and that the signage contains trilingual logo, trilingual welcome and trilingual heading.
Option 1 would also see the main body of text in English only in the likes of Public Notices.
Option 2, meanwhile, would be the same in regards to branding and signage, but the ‘enhancement of bilingual content’, meaning that more emphasis would be put on English and Irish.
However, Option 3 would entail council adopt a bilingual policy for all branding and signage, which would see the removal of Ulster Scots from the corporate brand and only Irish and English used on signage.
Ms Cavanagh added that Options 2 and 3 represent changes to the use of Ulster Scots on signage and within the corporate logo and branding.
However, she told the meeting that given that Option 3 represents the ‘most significant policy change’, the Working Group considered the evidence and assessment of the potential equality impacts of Option 3 as part of the Equality Screening process.
The meeting was then told that ‘no adverse equality impacts have been identified’ and the proposed policy would be screened out for Equality Impact Assessment.
“The rights of members of the public to access services and information in Ulster-Scots is not diminished by a decision not to include Ulster-Scots on branding and signage going forward,” she added.
Ms Cavanagh added that while the removal of Ulster-Scots here may have a potential impact upon ‘Good Relations’, a range of ‘mitigating measures’ have been identified to address this.
She said that these measures including ‘tackling prejudice and promoting understanding via Language Awareness programmes’ and ‘facilitating increased communication between different linguistic groups’.
Commenting, the DUP’s David Ramsey cautioned council against making a ‘hasty decision’ on a sensitive issue, and warned that any proposed change to the use of Ulster-Scots could ‘re-open’ divisions and create ‘new barriers’.
He added that Ulster-Scots was used ‘on a daily basis in our speech’, and proposed that any decision on the issue is deferred, which was seconded by Sinn Fein’s Brian McMahon.
The SDLP’s John Boyle added that ‘more time’ to discuss the issue ‘may afford a more mature debate’.
The independent councillor Gary Donnelly, who was also part of the working group, then asked for ‘clarification’ on how long the matter would be deferred.
“When are we deferring this to?” he asked.
“We’ve had very lengthy discussions so there’s nothing hasty about this. We’ve spoken to Ulster-Scots activists and there’s been a number of meetings with the Working Group, so I don’t see where the SDLP are coming from in seeking to defer it to have a more mature conversation.”
The DUP’s David Ramsey said that the deferral would allow a ‘wider range of people’ to be involved in the discussions.
Cllr Donnelly then replied that his question on how long the matter would be deferred hadn’t been answered.
“As long as necessary because we need the right result for everybody,” Alderman Ramsey replied.
The independent unionist councillor Maurice Devenney warned that any proposed change to the use of Ulster-Scots would send out a 'very severe message’ to the community.
The matter was then put to a vote, with a majority supporting a deferral on council accepting a new language policy.
Pictured above: Our council is the only one of 11 in the North that has a trilingual policy in respect of corporate branding and signage - meaning that it features English, Irish and Ulster-Scots.
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