DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan started a heated debate at the virtual meeting of Causeway Coast & Glens Council when he accused Sinn Féin of “wanting to take us back to mob rule” and bringing a motion to the council to “annoy and upset” people.
The minutes of the Environmental Services Committee were being proposed for ratification when Cllr Adrian McQuillan, Chair of the Committee, spoke about the motion on bi-lingual street signage, which was defeated at the March committee meeting.
The motion, brought by Sinn Féin Councillor Kathleen McGurk, called for the council to adapt the policy to be changed to a 15% threshold of positive responses instead of the current policy which requires two-thirds of responses to be positive.
Cllr McQuillan said: “This notice of motion didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting passed through this chamber. It was brought to this council because it was divisive and to split us. It was brought to upset the whole council and cause an argument.
“Sinn Féin need to learn that these notices of motion aren’t going to be passed, when they are brought here to stir things up. It’s going to have to stop.
“This has been an ongoing fact through the last two years,” he continued. “To think that two members of a street could impose their will on the rest of the street goes back to where you would have mob rule and I suppose that’s maybe where Sinn Féin wants to take us back to and it’s not going to happen and we won’t allow it to happen.
“I don’t think motions like this here should be brought before this council in future.”
Cllr McGurk, who proposed a re-vote on the motion, responded to Cllr McQuillan’s comments saying; “I don’t even know where to start with that absolute drivel.
“We brought forward evidence this motion would bring us into line with charters the British Government have already signed up to.
“Yet we have to sit and listen to someone say we don’t have the right to bring a motion before council. Are we just to go back to the days where we just sit in the corner and pretend our culture doesn’t matter?”
Independent Councillor Padraig McShane seconded Cllr McGurk’s proposal for a re-vote on the motion.
Independent Councillor William McCandless said it was “regrettable that Sinn Féin brought this proposal forward” and he questioned the rationale behind it.
He said: “To my knowledge no costings have been done but why bring this forward at a time when we are hopefully emerging from lockdown and we are going to face issues such as the regeneration of our high streets.
“Would council money not be better utilised there or assisting groups with the mental health issues we will be inundated with. We are already hearing of parents who have suffered with mental health issues from homeschooling.
Cllr McCandless said the Irish language in Northern Ireland in recent years has unfortunately become a “matter associated with identity”.
“In the late 19th Century, although in decline, it was embraced by both sides of the community,” he continued. “However in the 1970s it was used in the Maze prison by Republican prisoners as a way to set themselves apart from British authority.
“Sinn Fein have further exploited this by hijacking the language for political gain and let’s recognise this for what it is and where it has come from – this is “Jailtacht” not Gaeltacht.”
DUP Councillor George Duddy added; “To reduce the threshold to 15% would mean the 85% is ignored – how is that democracy or is that Sinn Féin’s democracy?
“Council has a policy, therefore it is not creating any barriers to anyone wanting to apply for street signage or additional street signage.
“Again it is Sinn Féin marking out territories. They failed to mention the Ulster Scots, despite the very charter they are talking about allowing for tri-lingual signs. They didn’t even mention the Ulster Scots – totally sectarian, totally bigoted, totally devisive.”
Sinn Féin group leader Leanne Peacock said; “The disgust for Sinn Féin in this Chamber and anti-Sinn Féin sentiment is coming across heavily and I think that is deeply regrettable.”
Cllr McGurk’s amendment, that the council reconsider the motion and vote on it again, was defeated by 22 votes to 16.
Responding to the debate and vote, Cllr McGurk said; “I am disgusted at the sentiments expressed by some members of Causeway Coast & Glens Council last night and in particular Cllr McQuillan’s comments in regards to my motion to reduce the barriers faced by residents wishing to see Irish language street signs on their streets.
“It is regrettable that Cllr McQuillan, supported by many other unionist councillors, feels that nationalists have no right to bring such a motion before council as part of the democratic process. It seems that Cllr McQuillan would be happier if we reverted back to the Orange state of the 1950’s where Nationalists had little to no access to the democratic process, no right to parity of esteem and no right to assert their culture and history.”
Sinn Féin group leader Leanne Peacock added: “DUP, UUP and PUP councillors on Causeway Coast and Glens Council launched a tirade against the Irish language and against us as political representatives going so far as to propose that we should not be allowed to bring motions on the Irish language to the council. Thankfully the days of unionist domination are no more and we cannot be silenced nor will we be silent.”
Responding to Sinn Féin’s claims, DUP Councillor George Duddy; said “This was not an attack on the Irish language at all and no one was talking about taking away anyone’s right to learn the Irish language.
“It was how the Irish language street signage was being used to mark out territory and these are the very same people who talk about putting flags up to mark out territory. They are talking about putting up permanent marking out of territories.
“Sinn Féin talks about value for money but their financial accumen doesnt add up because here they were going to burden the ratepayer with a devisive and sectarian marking out of territory at the rate payers expense.”