Gaeltacht Quarter residents 'disappointed' after council decision on Irish street signs halted for review

A decision to erect dual language street signs in Belfast's Gaeltacht Quater has faced a 'call-in' at Belfast City Council
A decision to erect dual language street signs in Belfast's Gaeltacht Quater has faced a 'call-in' at Belfast City Council

RESIDENTS of Belfast's Gaeltacht Quarter have been left "very disappointed" after a council decision to erect Irish language street signage was halted to allow for a review.

A vote at Belfast City Hall earlier this month saw a motion for dual signage in the Gaeltacht area of west Belfast pass with 29 votes for a 26 against, following bitter exchanges in the chamber.

Alliance councillors were accused by Sinn Féin of joining the DUP in "slowing down" the Irish language by opposing a proposal to treat the Gaeltacht as one bulk application, rather than go through the area street by street.

Sinn Féin have said the move would save money and time in the context of a huge backlog of applications for Irish street signs in Belfast.

However, at the council’s recent meeting of its Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, it was revealed the decision on signage for the area had been halted, and could possibly be dropped, after at least nine councillors out of the 60 members "called in" the decision for further consideration.

The call-in will involve an independent legal examination.

Councillors have to give reasons for the move, explaining why they believe the decision "was not arrived at after a proper consideration of the relevant facts and issues" and why they believe it "would disproportionately affect adversely any section of the inhabitants of the district".

Call-in requisitions have to be delivered to the council's chief executive within five working days of the publication of the draft minutes or decision register.

Sinn Féin councillor Ciaran Beattie said at the recent committee meeting: "I’m not happy the Gaeltacht Quarter decision was called in, and neither are the people who live there. They are very disappointed.

"We have a policy from 2012 on the Gaeltacht Quarter, and it is quite clear on the development of bilingual signage in Irish and English. It is an extensive piece, and with work from none other than Deloitte, paid for by this council and adopted by this council.

"This call in is unfortunate, I don’t think it will be successful, and whoever is giving the legal advice around the call-in should be furnished with our policy on the Gaeltacht Quarter."

At the full council meeting earlier in March, an Alliance proposal by councillor Michael Long to have "up to" 100 dual language signs approved under the current process by December 2023 was carried.

A report into the processing of new Irish street signage showed only one new sign was made since the council changed its policy last summer.

In the six months since the policy on dual language signage was changed to make thresholds easier, over 600 applications were made for Irish signs – with only one having been processed.

At the recent committee meeting, Councillor Long said: "I am pleased to note the call-in only referred to the decision on the Gaeltacht Quarter, and I am pleased my proposal for 100 streets is passed, which will accelerate the process and practically deliver more Irish street signs than anything else."

The new policy means at least one resident of any Belfast street, or a councillor, is all that is required to trigger a consultation on a second nameplate, with 15 percent in favour being sufficient to erect the sign. Non-responses will no longer be counted as "against" votes, and there will be an equality assessment for each application.

Up until last July, the policy required 33.3 percent of the eligible electorate in any Belfast street to sign a petition to begin the process, and 66.6 percent to agree to the new signage.