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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Irish word on manhole cover row deepens as word scraped off

Nevin Farrell

Published 14/03/2016 | 10:30

The manhole cover

Mystery surrounds the identity of those behind the removal of an Irish word from water mains covers in Ballymena.

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A controversy had blown up in recent days when the Irish word for water - uisce - appeared on mains covers in Wellington Street, one of the busiest streets in the Co Antrim town.

A Traditional Unionist Voice councillor asked for the word to be removed after being contacted by constituents.

The story quickly hit the headlines, and was dubbed Ballymena's 'Watergate' scandal by wags.

Mid & East Antrim Borough Council is currently involved in a £4 million street improvement scheme in the town centre.

A spokesman said there were only two mains covers bearing the Irish word, and that these were not installed as part of the current public realm work.

"We can confirm that our contractor's supplier does not provide the type of water valve covers with UISCE on them," he said.

The spokesman said the council was not involved in the removal of the Irish from the covers: "We are not aware of any direct action taken by council officials on this matter."

It remains unknown how and when the bilingual covers - bearing both the English and Irish words for water - were fitted and who later removed the word from them.

TUV councillor Timothy Gaston, the deputy mayor of Ballymena, said last week he hoped there had been an oversight, and he encouraged the contractor to change the mains covers as soon as possible. "Constituents have contacted me to raise questions over the use of the Irish water hydrant covers on the ratepayer-funded public realm project in Ballymena town centre," he said..

One eyewitness commented: "The word 'uisce' was only very small on this water mains cover which itself is only about 15cms across.

"However, now the Irish word had been removed. It looks as if it is the same water mains cover and upon close inspection you can see marks on the cover where the Irish word was either blasted off with an angle-grinder or scraped off."

Councillor Gaston was not available to comment on the developments. However, on his Facebook page he wrote that the issue was "blown out of perspective" by the media.

He said: "There are many pressing issues relating to North Antrim and particularly the town of Ballymena which has suffered appalling job losses in recent months.

"This has been and will continue to be my focus in the incoming months."

Belfast Telegraph

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