Northern Ireland

Irish language sign in south Belfast destroyed again in second attack in less than six weeks

Incident shows ‘complete intolerance towards the Irish language’, councillor claims

SDLP councillor Gary McKeown at the damaged Haypark Avenue sign in south Belfast. PICTURE: GARY MCKEOWN/X
SDLP councillor Gary McKeown at the damaged Haypark Avenue sign in south Belfast. PICTURE: GARY MCKEOWN/X

An Irish language street sign in south Belfast has been destroyed just over a month after it was repaired following a previous incident of vandalism.

The dual-language sign at Haypark Avenue in the Ormeau area of the city was targeted in recent days, with the ends of the sign being cut off.

The incident is the latest in a spate of vandalism targeting Irish language signage in Belfast, where four signs were also damaged in the north of the city towards the end of last year.

The sign’s destruction, which would likely have involved a power tool, has prompted a suggestion that the council should work with police on measures to prevent further attacks.

Dual-language signage is increasing as a result of a new Belfast City Council policy that allows at least one resident of a street, or a councillor, to trigger a consultation on erecting a sign in a second language alongside English.

A new sign will go up if 15% of residents agree, with non-responses no longer counted as votes against it.

The previous policy required 33.3% of residents to trigger a consultation, and 66.6% to agree to a sign before it would be erected.

A bi-lingual street sign at La Salle Drive in west Belfast. PICTURE COLM LENEGHAN
A new council policy has made it easier for bilingual street signs to be erected in Belfast following an application by a resident or councillor. PICTURE COLM LENEGHAN (Colm Lenaghan)

Under the new policy, an equality assessment is carried out for each application, and the cost of each new sign is estimated at around £1000.

The Haypark Avenue sign was repaired by the council after the lettering was scratched off at the end of December.

The sign had initially been erected last October before a spelling mistake was spotted in the Irish language lettering.

The error prompted a council “quality check” on other recently erected Irish street signage across the city.

Following the latest attack, SDLP Botanic councillor Gary McKeown told the Irish News: “Yet again we’ve seen complete intolerance towards the Irish language. Not content with having previously defaced the sign on Haypark Avenue, it has now been completely destroyed by people who clearly have no respect for their neighbours.

“I’m not sure what those responsible think they’re going to achieve by this. Bilingual signs go through a process where residents are consulted before they’re erected, so actions like this are an attack on those communities and their rights.

“With more and more of these signs being rolled out across the city, council officers may need to look at working with police to see whether anti-theft or anti-vandalism measures need to be put in place. I have asked for this to be considered, and for this particular sign to be replaced as soon as possible in the meantime.”

A PSNI spokesperson said police received a report of criminal damage to the sign on Monday, adding: “Anyone who may have any information or anyone with CCTV or other footage that could assist with enquiries is asked to contact police on 101 quoting reference number 1841 12/02/24.”

A spokesperson for Belfast City Council said the sign “will be replaced as soon as possible”.