DUP fails to block Irish signs for Belfast street where residents were split on application

South Belfast street will see dual-language signage after council vote

Cranmore Gardens, off Belfast's Lisburn Road, where new Irish language street signs will join existing English signs.
Cranmore Gardens, off Belfast's Lisburn Road, where new Irish language street signs will join existing English signs.

DUP councillors in Belfast has failed to block an Irish language street sign being approved, after a consultation showed as many residents objected to the new signage as supported it.

At Belfast City Council People and Communities Committee meeting this week, second street nameplates in Irish were approved for Stewartstown Mews, Bingnian Drive, Mizen Gardens, and Dermott Hill Road in the west of the city, and Mountainview Parade and Mountainview Gardens in north Belfast.

In south Belfast, the Irish signs were approved for Marcus Ward Street, off Dublin Road, and at Cranmore Gardens in the Lisburn Road area.

However, the DUP objected to Cranmore Gardens over the result of a survey of its 124 residents.

Of those who replied, 35 occupiers (28.23%) were in favour of a second street name plate, 35 were not in favour, and four occupiers had no preference either way. Fifty occupiers did not reply.

Balmoral DUP councillor Sarah Bunting said: “The high response rate, compared to the number we normally get from most streets, shows that there are strong feelings on both sides about this proposal.

“We do have a problem with installing dual language signs in mixed areas with settled communities where there are a close number of responses, or as in this case...a 50/50 split. I do think this increases community tensions and is counter-productive to this council’s Good Relations Strategy.”

Sinn Féin Balmoral rep Geraldine McAteer said: “We should go ahead with the application as it stands. It has achieved the requisite percentage, and is in fact over that, so it is only fair we go ahead with it.”

A proposal on stopping the Cranmore Gardens signs failed on a vote, with five votes in support from the DUP, and 13 votes against from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and the Green Party.

The application to erect dual language signage at Marcus Ward Street received special attention as it qualified as a street located within the city centre boundary, as agreed by the council last year. As part of the new policy, the council agreed that applications for dual language street signage in the city centre will be subject to wider public consultation.

A survey of occupiers of the street indicated that 11 (27.5%) are in favour of the proposal to erect second nameplates in Irish, one occupier was not in favour, and one had no preference either way.

Due to the street being in the city centre, the council also sought the views of those who live, work, study or visit the city.

Adverts were placed in the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and the News Letter, asking for submissions to be made between November and January 8, but no responses were received.

In 2022, councillors agreed a new policy on dual language street signs would finally be implemented. Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and People Before Profit all supported the policy, while the three unionist parties on the council at the time, the DUP, UUP and PUP, were against it.

A bi-lingual street sign at La Salle Drive in west Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENEGHAN
A dual-language street sign at La Salle Drive in west Belfast. PICTURE: COLM LENEGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

The 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 language sign, with 15% in favour being sufficient to erect it. Non-responses will no longer be counted as ‘against’ votes, and there will be an equality assessment for each application.

Before the new policy, 33.3% of the eligible electorate in any Belfast street was required to sign a petition to begin the process, and 66.6% needed to agree to a new sign. In the six months since the policy changed, a backlog built up of over 600 applications for Irish street signs.