Northern Ireland

Bilingual signs targeted in ‘hate crime’ in Belfast street where residents were split on Irish nameplate

Nameplates featuring the Irish language have been attacked across Belfast since new policy was introduced

Damage to a dual-language street sign at Cranmore Gardens in south Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCCANN

Damage caused to bilingual street signs featuring Irish in a south Belfast street where residents had been split on their installation is being investigated as a sectarian hate crime.

Two signs were targeted in the Cranmore Gardens area, off the Lisburn Road, on Wednesday evening.

The signs were daubed with white paint over the Irish name sometime between 6pm and 8pm.

It is the latest act of vandalism involving bilingual street signs in the city, following Belfast City Council’s new policy on triggering consultations with residents on erecting nameplates featuring a second language other than English.

Signs in the lower Ormeau area have been targeted several times since January, with one nameplate at Haypark Avenue damaged with a power tool three times alone.

The signs can cost up to £1,000 of ratepayers’ money each to replace.

The signs at Cranmore Gardens were installed following a split vote among residents, and a failed attempt by DUP councillors in February to block them from being put in place.

Damage to two dual-language street signs in the Cranmore Gardens in south Belfast. PICTURE: MAL MCCCANN

Under the council’s new policy, which came into effect last year, just one resident of a street, or a councillor representing the area, is required to begin a consultation among a street’s residents on installing a new nameplate.

If 15% of residents are in favour of the sign, it is installed, and those who do not respond to the consultation are not considered votes against the signage.

Under the previous policy, 33.3% of residents were required to begin the consultation process, and 66.6% were needed to agree to any new sign before it was erected.

In February, it emerged that out of the 124 residents of Cranmore Gardens who responded to the consultation, 35 were in favour, and 35 were against a bilingual sign, with four residents having no preference either way.

DUP councillor Sarah Bunting said during a meeting of the council’s People and Communities Committee, where the application was discussed, that her party had issues with installing signs in “mixed areas with settled communities where there are a close number of responses”.

She said installing the signage “increases community tensions and is counter-productive to this council’s Good Relations Strategy”.

A vote was held at the committee on blocking the Cranmore Gardens signage, with five DUP votes in favour, and 13 votes against by Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance and Green Party councillors.

Speaking of the vandalism of the two signs, a PSNI spokesperson said: ”We are investigating this as a sectarian hate crime and are appealing to anyone who may have seen anything suspicious, or anyone with CCTV or other footage that could assist with enquiries, to contact police on 101 quoting reference number 458 of 18/04/24.”

SDLP Balmoral councillor Donal Lyons told the Irish News: “It’s absolutely disgraceful that yet another bilingual sign has been targeted in this way.

“Bilingual signage doesn’t harm anyone. Some people are so bigoted that the mere sight of the Irish language will drive them to destroy public property. I would encourage anyone with information on this incident to contact police.”