Northern Ireland

Irish sign to be erected in east Belfast street after decision to re-survey residents overturned

Council told dual-language sign could cause ‘increase in community tension’

A dual-language sign is to be erected in east Belfast's Knock Eden Park under a policy introduced by Belfast City Council last year. Picture: Google Maps

A decision to re-survey a street in east Belfast for dual-language street signage has been overturned, with a majority of Belfast councillors voting for an Irish sign to be erected.

Last month members of Belfast City Council were split over whether to once again survey residents of Knock Eden Park in the Rosetta area.

During December’s People and Communities Committee meeting, 10 councillors from the DUP, Alliance and the Green Party voted in support of having a second survey of the street, against nine councillors from Sinn Féin and the SDLP who wanted the council to accept that the 15 percent threshold for dual-language signage had been met.

However, the decision was overturned at the full meeting of Belfast City Council this week after Alliance and Green councillors u-turned on the matter during a vote on a Sinn Féin amendment to erect the signs without a re-survey.

In total, 41 councillors voted in favour of the amendment from Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Greens and People Before Profit, while 16 DUP, UUP and TUV councillors voted against it.

In the Knock Eden Park survey, 55 occupiers (28.50%) were in favour of the erection of a second street name plate; 46 occupiers (23.83%) were not in favour, while 11 occupiers (5.70%) had no preference either way.

Eighty-one occupiers (41.97%) did not respond to the survey.

Last year councillors agreed a new policy on dual-language street signs, supported by all members except those from the DUP, UUP and PUP.

15 percent of a street can get an Irish Language signs in Belfast Picture by Hugh Russell.
15 percent of a street can get an Irish Language signs in Belfast Picture by Hugh Russell.

The policy enables one street resident or a councillor to trigger a consultation on a second language nameplate, with 15% of residents in favour being enough to erect the sign. Non-responses are no longer counted as votes against the new signage, while an equality assessment is carried out for each application.

The previous policy required 33.3% of residents to sign a petition to trigger the process, then 66.6% were required to support the signage before it was erected.

At this week’s full council meeting, Sinn Féin’s Tomás Ó Néill said: “We have a threshold set at 15 percent, the registered voters that came in were nearly 30 percent, which is double the threshold.

He said the threshold was about protecting “minority language rights and visibility”.

“The policy was designed in line with the European Charter for Regional Minority Languages, the UN Convention of Human Rights, and the CRC Rights for the Child,” he said.

An Irish language street sign in Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Dual-language signage in Belfast's Cromac Street. Picture: HUGH RUSSELL

He added: “We will be advocating that streets that reach the 15% threshold will be installed and proceed as asked for. Every single month in the People and Communities Committee we are having debates back and forward whether streets should be going ahead or whether people are getting offended. You don’t have a right to be offended by another language.”

However, the DUP’s Bradley Ferguson said: “I have been approached by residents...and they tell me about the good community relations there are in the street and how well people live together, regardless of religion, colour of skin or anything like that. Many raised concerns about this, many thought this would cause an increase in community tension.”