Antrim and Newtownabbey council adopts new dual language street sign policy

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has adopted a draft dual language street sign policy which means Irish language signs will need the support of council and local residents to proceed.

A proposal put forward by Ulster Unionist Alderman Mark Cosgrove and seconded by DUP Councillor Matthew Magill was approved behind closed doors at a meeting of the local authority with Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors against.

It follows a public consultation carried out by the borough council earlier this year to which 1,225 responses were received. 

At the meeting, Sinn Fein Cllr Michael Goodman’s proposal that the item be deferred was defeated.

Ulster Unionist Alderman Mark Cosgrove

A further proposal was put by Alliance Cllr Neil Kelly to adopt the policy with an amendment regarding the number of people in a street required to sign a petition be reduced from one third to a quarter was also defeated.

It was then proposed by Ald Cosgrove, that the council adopts the Draft Dual Language Street Sign Policy subject to review after three years.

It means an application will have to be supported by a petition representing at least one third of residents and must have the backing of the local authority to proceed to canvassing street residents by post.

If two thirds or more indicate they are in favour, the application will be brought before the council for decision.

The issue first arose in February 2018 when the council received a request from Abbeyville Residents’ Association for five Irish language street signs which was turned down.

However, in September 2018, the council was forced to do a u-turn after being challenged in the High Court by a resident who sought a judicial review.

The council insisted that its policy was “not a ban in any way on the Irish language” and a new, “more detailed policy would be drafted for the council to consider”.

Commmenting on Antrim and Newtownabbey’s Draft Dual Language Street Sign Policy, Dr Padraig O’Tiarnagh, of Conradh na Gaelige, said: “This new policy is at odds with other local councils that have developed and implemented policies based on best practice and international guidance.

“We hope that with the incoming Irish language legislation through Westminster that the Irish Language Commissioner will be able to provide further guidance regarding best practice.”