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Irish street sign erected as council battle rumbles on

The Irish language street sign erected by residents in Ballymurphy Drive in west Belfast. Picture by Declan Roughan
John Monaghan

RESIDENTS in west Belfast have erected their own Irish language street sign as a three-year battle with the city council rumbles on.

A sign has now appeared on Ballymurphy Drive after language enthusiasts said they decided to "take matters into our own hands".

Out of 92 residents on the street canvassed by the council when the proposal was first made, 52 said they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.

But because the other 39 households did not respond to the survey, a council requirement to have two-thirds of residents in favour of a change was not met.

Resident Eileen Reid launched an unsuccessful judicial review of the decision, claiming it breached an obligation to promote the Irish language.

The Court of Appeal then heard last year that the the council was prepared to reconsider applications for dual language signs if there were exceptional circumstances.

At a council meeting last month, a Sinn Féin motion "to exercise its discretion" and approve the request was defeated by two votes after Alliance and unionist members opposed the proposal.

Instead, a decision was taken to carry out another survey.

However, Irish language organisation Glór na Móna, which had led calls for the sign, said it has worked with "local residents, activists and young people" to take the campaign "into their own hands".

Spokesman Conchur Ó Muadaigh, a resident of Ballymurphy Drive, said: "It is disheartening in 2016 that local residents and citizens of Belfast have had to revert back to the same approach used in the 1980s when Irish language signage was erected illegally by language activists demanding equality and recognition.

"Having been denied our rights in court and been unable to affect a change in this discriminatory policy in the local political authority, local Gaels have decided to follow the famous Shaws Road dictum ‘Na hAbair é, Déan é' (don't say it, do it) by taking matters into our own hands."

Mr Ó Muadaigh added: "The fact of the matter is that Irish speakers still have our rights denied and continue to suffer from outdated policies and discrimination that are a legacy from our colonial past."

Sinn Féin councillor Niall O'Donnghaile said: "The residents have a bit of frustration with the policy that exists. I would suggest that if the council had any sense, it wouldn't be doing this.

"The residents of the street were 52-1 in favour of this. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Gael and you happen to be down in the caravan when the letter comes through, your non-response is taken as a negative."

A council policy drawn up in 1995 estimated it would cost around £200,000 over five years to erect dual language signs, with another £30,000 required annually for additional staff and resources.

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