Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin emails referred to watchdog in 'English-only' street signs row

Jacqui Dixon, chief executive of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council
Brendan Hughes

THREE Sinn Féin councillors' emails have been referred to a standards watchdog examining the alleged leaking of confidential information about a legal challenge to a council's 'English-only' street signs policy.

Antrim and Newtownabbey council in September rescinded its policy which prevented Irish-language signage after a resident took legal action arguing it amounted to discrimination.

But two Sinn Féin councillors were referred to the Local Government Commissioner for Standards after the council's climbdown was revealed the week before on Twitter.

Anne Marie Logue tweeted that the council was being "legally forced to revoke their discriminatory 'English-only policy'", adding: "Disgrace that the DUP/UUP have been allowed to get this far."

The message, which followed a private council meeting, was also shared by her party colleague Michael Goodman.

And now the council's chief executive Jacqui Dixon has referred correspondence of the councillors and their party colleague Henry Cushinan to the commissioner.

The emails, unearthed through a Freedom of Information request, reveal minutes of 'Irish language groups meetings' which discussed the street signs policy.

Those in attendance included the three councillors, Irish-language group reps and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) – which backed the legal challenge.

They note discussions of ways to lobby against the policy, as well as plans for a judicial review (JR).

Ms Logue, referred to as temporary chair, "asked for agreement to support a judicial review", the minutes say.

The minutes also say it was explained that "support from the group was needed in principle but that the JR would proceed independent of, and alongside any strategy agreed by the group".

According to the councillors' code of conduct, reps "must not disclose confidential information" without the relevant consent or "unless required to do so by law".

The council, which is drafting a new signage policy, declined to say whether the papers raised any issue on declaring interests under the code.

"As this matter is currently with the Local Government Commissioner for Standards, council is unable to make a comment," a spokeswoman said.

Sinn Féin did not respond to requests for a comment.

However, Ms Logue has previously dismissed the watchdog complaint as a "distraction" from the likely "tens of thousands" in legal costs the council faces due to its signage policy.

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