A row over the name of a fisheries protection boat has highlighted efforts to undermine the Irish language within unionist-controlled departments at Stormont.
‘Banrion Uladh’ was the name of the vessel that patrols the Irish Sea. It was launched in 2010 by then Sinn Fein Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew, and given its Irish language name.
Now Michelle McIlveen - the DUP’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) Minister - has changed the boat’s name to ‘Queen of Ulster’, the English translation for ‘Banrion Uladh’.
Upper Bann Sinn Fein Assembly member Catherine Seeley expressed anger this month when she submitted an Assembly question demanding to know the cost of changing the boat’s name.
She also asked Ms McIlveen to explain her “rationale for the decision”, and whether any consultation on the name change had taken place.
Ms McIlveen responded, claiming that Ms Gildernew had not carried out an adequate consultation when she named the boat back in 2010. Ms McIlveen also announced that her department would have a “single language” policy, moving away from the Sinn Fein ministers’ approach where communication was done in both English and Irish.
“DAERA is a new department with a fresh identity and logo and adopts a single language policy. There have consequently been some necessary adaptations to assets transferring to the new department,” she said.
Michelle Gildernews said Ms McIlveen’s the move was “petty in the extreme”.
“It’s the most retrograde step I have heard in a long time,” she said. “It’s racism towards the Irish language and towards the Irish community.
“There are very many people upset by this step taken, it’s a clear example of the contempt felt towards the Irish community who have been left highly offended by this.
“When this ship was named, I did discuss a lot of names and there were other names that were far more Irish that I could have went with, but I didn’t.”