Legal action after council rejects Garvaghy Road bilingual sign bid despite meeting criteria

Campaigners say council meetings held behind closed doors

The Garvaghy Road in Portadown
A bilingual sign had been proposed for the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. Image from Google Maps

A Portadown woman is taking legal action after the council failed to erect a bilingual sign in the Garvaghy Road area despite meeting its own two-thirds criteria.

Iris Hagan has launched judicial review proceedings against Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council after it rejected an application for the Irish language sign at Woodside Hill.

The district was at the centre of the Drumcree parades dispute in the late 1990s after local residents objected to Orange parades passing through the majority nationalist area.

David Trimble and Ian Paisley marching on the Garvaghy Road in 1995. Picture by Pacemaker
David Trimble and Ian Paisley marching on the Garvaghy Road in 1995. Picture by Pacemaker

Under ABC council policy, applications for bilingual signs must initially be supported by 33% of residents in a petition, which is then submitted to the council.

This is then followed up by a council managed survey, which must have at least 66% of support from residents on the electoral register. Non-responses are considered as opposing the application.

The initial 33% support was submitted to the council in September 2022, but it was six-months before the council carried out a survey.

Campaigners say the survey returned 66 resident votes in favour of the signs, while there were three against. There were 26 non-responses. leaving 69.5% in favour.

The council’s planning committee consider the application last October - more than a year after it was initiated - but it was rejected.

This decision was upheld later in the month on a 21-19 vote.

Campaigners say the application was discussed under confidential business at council meetings.

Ms Hagan, who lives in the area, said local people were disappointed.

“As a parent of Irish-speaking children attending the local gaelscoil, and as someone who is learning the language themselves, I only see the addition of bilingual signage to Woodside Hill as an opportunity to enrich our already diverse community,” she said.

And she added: “We were optimistic from our conversations on the doors that our application would be successful and that we would become the first street in the council area to obtain bilingual signage. Unfortunately, it seems that our efforts have been in vain.”

Cuisle Nic Liam, Language Rights Coordinator with Conradh na Gaeilge, said: “It is a legitimate expectation that local councils fulfil and honour their own policies, especially when every procedure and threshold within those policies have been followed and met.”

Solicitor Gavin Booth
Solicitor Gavin Booth

Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said the refusal to erect the signs “flies in the face of the express and overwhelming majority views of the residents”.

“At this stage there has been no adequate justification as to why local councillors chose to hold these meetings in secret and secondly why they refuse to set out proper reasoning for refusing to comply with the law and the wishes of the residents.”

ABC council was contacted.