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Council failed to carry out equality screening on 'English only' language policy

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council carried out Section 75 screening of new policy 'English only' months after it was introduced
Connla Young

A Co Antrim council failed to carry out equality screening before introducing an English-only street naming policy.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council rescinded the controversial policy days before a legal challenge was set to be heard.

Details of the move were revealed at the High Court in Belfast last week.

The policy was introduced in February this year after some residents in Newtownabbey asked for street name plates to be provided in Irish.

It has now emerged that the majority unionist council failed to carry out a Section 75 screening until around three months after the policy was introduced.

According to the Equality Commission “section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act aims to change the practices of government and public authorities so that equality of opportunity and good relations are central to policy making and service delivery”.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice requested a review of the screening procedure last month.

Caroline Maguire from the organisation's Equality Duty Project said: “The council by-passed its duty by failing to equality test its 'English-only' policy for street signs before it was enacted,” she said.

“Only months afterwards, having been challenged for not carrying out the testing, did they finally produce an equality screening document.”

She said the CAJ has appealed the screening process.

“However, this document is nothing more than a box ticking exercise and is not completed properly,” she said.

“We have appealed this, seeking that it be redone correctly.”

A spokeswoman for the council declined to say if a review request or any complaints have been received.

“As the council's policy to have street signs in English only has now been set aside the associated screening form is no longer relevant and a new screening form will be required for the new policy,” she said.

She also said the council took the view “that its policy was not a ban in any way on the Irish language”.

Last week members of the council voted to refer a social media tweet by Sinn Féin councillor Anne Marie Logue to the Northern Ireland Local Government Commissioner for Standards.

The move came after Ms Logue revealed on Twitter that the council had "revoked" the decision to introduce the English-only street name policy.

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