A new initiative to support the Irish language in the North has been attacked in a unionist campaign of vandalism and hate.
Gaelic words on council signs have been defaced in County Down, with the Irish wording for Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Comhairle Ceantar an Iuir, Mhurn agus an Duin, sprayed over in several locations.
“I am very deeply concerned that the new bilingual signs are being deliberately defaced and damaged as some form of legitimate protest to the new bilingual signs in both Irish and English,” said independent local councillor Patrick Clarke.
“I would also remind and urge all politicians to show political leadership particularly at this time of year by the use of their language in condemning the damage and vandalism.”
The chairwoman of the council, the SDLP’s Gillian Fitzpatrick, condemned the vandalism.
“This juvenile act will disappoint not only the nationalist community here but also members of the unionist community who know that there is no place for bigotry and sectarianism in our society,” Ms Fitzpatrick said.
“We want to encourage visitors to travel here and have an enjoyable, peaceful experience - not one marred by ignorance and hatred.
“Much good work has been done by the council to bring people together and this will not derail that.”
The attacks came after TUV unionist Henry Reilly claimed the use of Irish in signposts is an “attempt to brand areas as Republican”. He said the recently-approved signs should “never have gone up in the first place”.
“As we warned, the reaction of the unionist community to this attempt to brand areas as republican was predictable,” he said.
Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown branded the incidents “an act of sectarian vandalism”, and said he is aware of four such incidents across the District in the last two weeks.
He added: “It’s an absolute disgrace that this Council property has been maliciously damaged in what I can only describe as an act of sectarian vandalism. The Council made a democratic decision to provide bilingual signage and like it or not this sort of behavior, which only damages the ratepayer’s pocket in terms of replacement costs, is not going to change that.
“It also does not help that during the district wide roll out of these signs, unionist representatives from both the TUV and DUP have consistently acted with an irresponsible intransigence around this issue, saying things like ‘if bilingual signs go up in unionist areas, they won’t last 24 hours’.
“I hope that if this sectarian vandalism continues across the District, these same reps will join with me in condemning the damage, and urge others to do the same.”