Controversy over University of Ulster’s plans to erect Irish language signs on campus

Catherine Gallagher

A move by University of Ulster to erect Irish language signs across campus has been labelled as a “political stunt” by the Ulster Young Unionists.

A University of Ulster Students’ Union (UUSU) council meeting was held in mid-November where a new bilingual signage policy was agreed. This would see Irish language signs replacing existing signage over time across the university’s four campuses in Belfast, Coleraine, Jordanstown and Derry.

The mandate was brought forward by a member of Student Union Council and was subsequently passed.

Chairperson of the Young Unionists Joshua Lowry said that it would create a “hierarchy of equality” at the university.

“This political stunt has nothing to do with promoting the use of the Irish language and everything to do with attempting to make the university a cold house for unionists, and others who do not support the Republicann agenda in the university”

“Ulster University has a responsibility to staff and students to ensure that it provides equality to all, and that it is a safe space for open and respectful learning and debate. It would be sheer folly to allow this university to turn into one that values one community over another,” said Lowry.

The group wrote to the Vice Chancellor of the university on the matter. If the plans continue to erect the signs, the Young Unionists say they intend to report it to the Equality Commission.

In response to the claims made by Lowry, President of UUSU Kevin Stravock said, “We aim to convene discussions in advance of the Christmas break, and will take into account the views of students from all backgrounds and beliefs and our requirements under Good Relations Policy, Section 75 legislation and other relevant policy.”

“Irish language is taught across two of our campuses – Belfast and Magee and we have Cumann Gaelach societies in three of our campuses (Belfast, Magee and Jordanstown) so there is a significant interest in the language and culture,” added Stravock.

As of 2017, just over 1,300 of students enrolled were from the Republic of Ireland.

Irish language signs were previously taken down from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) in 1997 due to the findings of the Fair Employment Commission. It concluded at the time that it created a ‘chill factor’ amongst Protestant students.

An Cumann Gaelach QUB, an Irish language society, demanded a meeting with Queen’s management on matters relating to the language on the campus and to the re-installation of the bilingual signs.

In a letter sent to An Cumann Gaelach QUB signed by acting chair Vice Chancellor James McElnay, the university said it works to sustain a neutral working environment.

Catherine Gallagher

Image Credit: Wikipedia