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Almost summertime so time for a Xmas row at council

By Paul Ainsworth

IT’S almost summer, so it’s the perfect time for an argument about Christmas at Belfast City Hall, where once again, the idea of wishing citizens and visitors to the city a “Merry Christmas” in Irish is too much for some unionists to stomach.

In a bid to maintain a “positive attitude” to the island’s native tongue in its second largest city, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir hoped to pass an amendment to a note on the maintenance of festive lights and signage.

However, his plan to agree that “at a minimum” the grounds of City Hall should include a bilingual yuletide greeting were once again jeered by opponents on the other side of the chamber, including the DUP’s young Gavin Robinson, who sounded distinctly mayoral when speaking (perhaps a clue as to the future of the council in a few months), but slammed it as a “negative proposal”.

Others accused the South Belfast councillor of favouring a “pet project” over other minority languages in the city. It seems the concept of why a native language deserves a bit more special treatment than your average immigrant tongue, has once again gone over the heads of some, including the Alliance councillors, who failed to back the doomed amendment and it was sunk.

However, if the council is focused on Christmas lights, they might be of a mind to consider how to cut down those hefty electricity bills, and SDLP Councillor Tim Attwood could be the man for the job. Such is his devotion to two wheels – rivalling that of the chamber’s other famous cyclist so far, Tom Hartley – perhaps he and the former Sinn Féin Mayor could hook a couple of stationary bikes to a dynamo and pump the juice to keep signage in all languages glittering through the festive season.

Councillor Attwood proved his commitment to two wheels by asking why a city public bike hire scheme has so far failed to get on the road, after it was officially backed in 2009.

“Dublin’s hiring scheme has been hailed as the most successful in the world,” he told colleagues, citing that each bike on Dublin’s streets has been hired an average of 2,200 times each, creating a much needed income stream.

“Why couldn’t we have had this up and running for Titanic year?” he asked.

“Our city is small enough for this scheme to be a practical success, but at this rate we won’t get anything going until 2020.”

However Development Committee Chair Chris Stalford revealed that talks were underway that could see progress long before that. To the joy of cycling enthusiasts everywhere, he revealed that “within a matter of months” public hire bikes in Belfast could be a reality. Now all we need is decent cycle lanes and considerate taxi drivers and we are on to a winner.


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