Police get a lesson in Welsh speakers' raw nerves

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The Independent Online

North Wales Police was in a dispute about the its officers' capacity to speak Welsh yesterday.

North Wales Police was in a dispute about the its officers' capacity to speak Welsh yesterday.

The force has been pilloried over the past 18 months by some in Porthmadog, Gwynedd, over its decision to appoint a non-Welsh speaker as a local police officer.

The issue is sensitive in this strongly Welsh-speaking area, and incited angry exchanges in the town's council chambers.

The force subsequently became the first in Wales to advertise for a £23,000-a-year, in-house Welsh language tutor to help it develop a bilingual policy and conform with other organisations in the public sector. A graduate with teaching skills is being sought to teach Welsh as a second language to officers.

In the more anglicised resort of Colwyn Bay, however, the appointment was greeted with scorn. Hundreds of residents have signed a petition that calls for the money to be spent instead on putting more officers on the streets.

Graham Cox, 50, an indignant local businessman, said: "I've nothing against the Welsh language but this cash could have been spent on an extra bobby.

"They're always saying they're short of money yet this is how they spend it," he said. "Colwyn Bay isn't the only town complaining about lack of police."

The force's Deputy Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, defended the appointment. "The post will be an investment towards the future of [our] bilingual service," he said.

"We are keen to recruit non-Welsh speaking recruits with the facility to learn and develop their language skills. This post is a golden opportunity to develop our Welsh language policy."

In South Wales, new recruits are offered a software package to help them learn Welsh. "We are not quite so much in the front line of the problem since English is primarily spoken," a police spokeswoman said.