A BILINGUAL road sign was blasted by gunfire a day after it was put up – prompting fears that it was targeted by anti-Gaelic protesters.
The sign on the A99 next to Wick Airport in Caithness was found to be vandalised less than 24 hours after it was erected. SNP councillor and Gaelic speaker Alex MacLeod last night said he feared the vandalism had been motivated by strong anti-Gaelic feelings within the community.
He said: “If someone has felt so incensed by Gaelic that they have gone and attacked an inanimate object, then I feel very sorry for them indeed. This is a sad and senseless attack.
“We need to determine who the vandal was, and why they did this. However, I think it’s pretty clear this was an extreme anti-Gaelic incident.
“I find this latest anti-Gaelic incident deeply troubling. The vast majority of people in Caithness welcome our cultural diversity and are keen to promote our Gaelic heritage.
“They recognise that this county has a rich and varied cultural and linguistic tapestry, and this is a great asset. However, they are drowned out by a vocal and nasty anti-Gaelic minority, who stoke prejudice and ignorance in the county.”
A Police Scotland spokesman said it had not yet received any report of the incident, but urged anyone with information to contact them.
The sign was installed at the Wick industrial estate junction at North Road last Thursday.
By Friday morning, passers-by noticed the sign had been shot three times. The vandalism had left a number of dents, but did not pierce through the metal sign.
Caithness councillor Willie Mackay said: “I know there has been a lot of controversy over bilingual road signs coming to Caithness, and I for one have not been a great supporter of them. But there was no need to deface them – they cost a lot of money.”
Many people in Caithness feel the county’s strong Norse heritage should make the area exempt from the policy for road signs to be bilingual.
Pro-Gaelic campaigners say there is evidence that 3,422 people in Caithness spoke the language in 1881.
In 2008, eight Caithness councillors put forward a motion that bilingual signs in the far north be restricted, but they were defeated by 50 votes to 12.
In 2010, the Prince of Wales, attending the Royal National Mod in Thurso, said he would question suggestions Gaelic had no direct relevance to Caithness.
He said: “The suggestion has been made that the language has little or no direct relevance in this part of the world. If I may, I might just gently question that view. I would suggest Gaelic … belongs to all the people and communities of a nation, whether they or not they are actively involved with it.”
Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd requested the local authority put up a directional sign at the airport to provide information to visitors heading into the town centre, John o’ Groats and other places.
Under the terms of the Highland Council’s policy, such a sign would have to include Gaelic, as only street name signs do not need to be bilingual.