Irish language row over Gobbins signage

The iconic tubular bridge at the Gobbins cliff path
The iconic tubular bridge at the Gobbins cliff path

Councillors have clashed over the Irish language after the Ulster Scots Agency proposed an interpretative signage project at the Gobbins.

During a meeting of the Economic Growth and Development Committee on November 16, councillors heard that the Ulster Scots Agency had previously approached Larne Borough Council with a proposal to deliver an interpretative signage project at the Gobbins.

The initial proposal indicated that the signage project would feature key aspects of the story of Islandmagee and its Ulster Scots heritage.

However, since the original initiative was not progressed, the Ulster Scots Agency had now indicated that money could be made available to Mid and East Antrim Borough Council.

Council officer Aidan Donnelly told councillors that the design team involved in delivering the Gobbins had decided against using the material inside the centre when the proposal was previously made in 2014. He said that the Ulster Scots Agency had now approached council to ask whether it would consider developing signage outside the centre, on the path itself.

“We don’t have any detail on what the proposal is,” he continued.

“The Gobbins is one of, if not the, major tourist attraction in the borough. It’s important that we develop a strategy and there is good signage and it is consistent. There are resources there and there could be a benefit in developing this.”

Mr Donnelly said that further proposals would be brought back to the committee for approval.

However, UUP Councillor Stephen Nicholl said that the proposal was “as woolly as it gets.”

“This is the third or fourth time it has been raised, I would like to see something that fits with what’s there, there’s no point doing different messages,” he stated.

“The fonts and the message should be integrated.”

UUP Councillor Mark McKinty said he supported Councillor Nicholl’s comments, and asked whether other groups might be able to take the project forward.

Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Maguire said that his party would “support the principle of the Ulster Scots language and Irish language enshrined in legislation.”

“We are meant to have a policy on minority languages and we don’t have one,” he continued.

“We shouldn’t take part in any further scoping out until we have a minority languages charter.”

However, Cllr Nicholl responded that he “hadn’t picked up the Ulster Scots language as involved” in the project.

Mr Donnelly added that council officers needed to go to examine the proposals and report back.

Cllr Maguire then called for an Equality Impact Assessment on the proposal.

“If we look at Ulster Scots we have to look at the Irish language as well,” he continued.

However, committee Vice Chair Cllr Jim Brown said that the proposal was “not a language issue.”

Deputy Mayor Timothy Gaston said that the discussion had gone “completely off the beaten track.”

“Some members want to turn it into a political issue trying to get a Trojan horse forced on us,” he said.

“We should go back to what’s on the table.”

It was unanimously agreed that council officers should speak with the Ulster Scots Agency and bring back details of the proposals,