Public consultation on dual language street signs in Antrim and Newtownabbey
Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to hold a 12-week community consultation on the provision of dual language street signs after a draft policy was agreed behind closed doors.
The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 gives councils the power to erect dual language street signs or secondary nameplates in a language other than English.
It is understood that a draft process would involve a petition of a street’s residents followed by a postal vote before being returned to the local authority for consideration.
The views of statutory bodies such as the PSNI, Royal Mail, NI Fire and Rescue Service, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service may also be taken into consideration.
If successful, a second language sign with smaller lettering would be placed below the English sign.
A council spokesperson said: “Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has agreed a draft policy for consultation on the provision of dual language street signs. The consultation with key stakeholders will run for a period of 12 weeks.”
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 after councillors voted in favour of a policy retaining street signs in English only proposed by Glengormley DUP councillor Alderman Phillip Brett and seconded by Glengormley Ulster Unionist councillor Ald Mark Cisgrove.
Ald Brett stressed the importance of the council having a policy on the issue so that if there were future requests, these could be dealt with “smoothly”.
Ald Cosgrove said that given the facts and figures presented to members over the number of Irish language speakers in the borough, the request would be “preposterous” and street signs would look like a “dog’s dinner”.
According to the 2011 census, 6.52% of residents in Antrim and Newtownabbey had some knowledge of Irish. In 2018, it was reported that 176 people in Antrim and Newtownabbey spoke Irish as a main language.
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 over a “deeply held concern that the policy adopted by the local authority was unlawful”. Read here
The borough 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”.
A year later, councillors agreed that a three-month public consultation should be carried out with a further report to be brought to councillors for consideration.
Commenting on last week’s decision, SDLP group leader Councillor Roisin Lynch said: “I was disappointed that councillors decided to support this deeply restrictive policy. It is a shameless and deliberate attempt to slow down and stymy efforts for dual language signage.
“There can be little doubt that this onerous policy is designed to obstruct efforts to progress the visibility of Gaeilge in our local communities. I am particularly disappointed that Alliance Party councillors backed a policy designed to restrict the growth of the language.
“It is of vital importance that the Irish language is given the visibility it deserves and that anyone who wishes to see bilingual signage in their area has access to a fair and transparent process. This is a slap in the face to those in our communities, including myself, who know that we need to break down barriers to the visibility of the the Irish language, not create new ones.”
Antrim and Newtownabbey Mayor Councillor Billy Webb commented: “This is not an Irish language policy. This is a multi-lingual policy. We are a diverse community.
“The policy is going out to consultation. We were looking for one third of residents of a street to instigate an application and then 50 per cent plus one in the actual vote. That is a normal and true democratic process. The DUP was looking for two-thirds.”
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter
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