Published: 10/08/2012 11:00 - Updated: 10/08/2012 11:01

New bilingual sign sparks fresh wrangle

Written byby Gordon Calder

The new bilingual sign at Knockally.
The new bilingual sign at Knockally.

A CAITHNESS councillor yesterday hit out at the cost of installing bilingual road signs in the far north and described the move as “the height of nonsense”.

Thurso representative John Rosie said “thousands of pounds” will be spent on the controversial road signs and claimed the money would be better spent on front-line services and filling potholes.

He spoke out after what is believed to be the county’s first bilingual Gaelic and English road sign was installed at Knockally on the Braemore road near Dunbeath.

Mr Rosie, a vociferous opponent of the Highland Council policy, said putting up the signs is “the greatest waste of money. It is hard to think of a greater waste of money.

“They are no use to the average man in the street or to visitors as it is only Gaelic speakers who can understand them.”

His Thurso colleague, Donnie Mackay, agreed. “It makes me mad. We have been waiting for nine years to get street signs in Thurso,” he said.

Current council policy is that bilingual road signs will be installed in Caithness when existing ones need repaired or replaced but Mr Rosie and Mr Mackay said they will continue to fight against it.

“It is the height of nonsense. The people of Caithness have made their opinions absolutely clear and feel the bilingual road signs have no place here.

“The money spent on them could be used to better purpose and could be spent on front-line services or filling in the potholes on our roads,” said Mr Rosie.

He said those in favour of the bilingual signs claim they will not cost much but they “never put a figure on it”.

“The signs cost a great deal of money. Let them come clean and tell us how much they cost,” stated Mr Rosie.

He said millions of pounds are being spent on the Gaelic Language Plan but argued fewer people are speaking the language. When older speakers die they are not being replaced by the younger generation, said Mr Rosie.

“The attitude seems to be there are less people speaking the language so let us pour money at it.”

He claimed those in favour of the signs are not interested in democracy and don’t listen to the views of the public. “People in Caithness have consistently made their views known about these bilingual signs and are against them. People in other parts of the Highlands are also against them,” said Mr Rosie.

Mr Mackay said the current council policy is causing ill feeling with local people who do not want bilingual signs.

“Local councillors have little say. There is a lack of democracy and we are fighting a losing battle but I will continue to oppose the policy,” he said.

Mr Mackay has been fighting for a road sign at the housing development at the former Scapa House in Thurso without any success although it was built almost a decade ago. He also pointed out no sign has been erected at Bobby Coghill Avenue in Staxigoe – the name of which was agreed over five years ago.

“If an emergency happened how would a doctor or ambulance know where to go if there are no street signs?” he said.

Mr Mackay claimed it costs between 60 and 80 per cent more to erect bilingual signs and felt the money would be better spent on other services such as removing weeds.

In 2008, eight Caithness councillors put forward a motion that bilingual signs in the far north should be restricted to the Ord of Caithness, the towns of Thurso and Wick and John O’Groats. But the move was defeated by 50 votes to 12 in favour of a policy that Highland Council reaffirm its commitment to the Gaelic Language Plan.

*Do you think Caithness should have bilingual signs? Comment below.

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