Northern Ireland

Not a single bilingual sign erected in ABC Council area

Council faces legal action over refusal to pass sign request in nationalist area

The Garvaghy Road in Portadown
Bi-lingual signs had been proposed for the Garvaghy Road in Portadown. Image from Google Maps

A unionist dominated council at the centre of legal action over its dual language policy has not granted permission for a single bilingual sign to be put up in the district.

The Irish News revealed this week that Portadown woman Iris Hagan has launched judicial review proceedings against Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council after it rejected an application for an Irish language sign at Woodside Hill, off the Garvaghy Road, despite the application meeting its own two-thirds criteria.

In the 1990s the Garvaghy Road area was in the grip of the bitter Drumcree parades dispute after local people objected to Orange Order parades passing through the majority nationalist area.

Drumcree in 1995
Drumcree in 1995

The ABC local authority takes in a large area of Co Armagh and Co Down, including several strongly nationalist districts.

It is understood that no Irish language signage has been approved by ABC Council since it’s three legacy councils merged in 2015.

Sinn Féin councillor Catherin Nelson
Sinn Féin councillor Catherin Nelson

Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Nelson said people who live in the area should not have to resort to legal action.

“Displaying dual language signage the length and breadth of our borough should be something we champion as a council,” she said.

“We should not be in the business of sending our residents to a judge to do our work for us.

“Council has a process. This was followed by Woodside residents. They met the criteria.

“Erect the signage.”

Ms Hagan’s solicitor Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said “there is not one bilingual sign in ABC”.

“This was going to be the first one,” he said.

“It beggars belief that not one bilingual sign exists in ABC council, which includes large nationalist districts.

“There is clear support in the community for these signs.”

While many nationalist controlled councils have dual language polices and signage, some unionist dominated local authorities have in the past resisted change.

The 1995 Local Government Order allowed for signs in both English and another language.

The Irish New reported last year that Mid and East Antrim (MEA) Borough Council said there were no policies “relating to minority/dual languages or for the dual language/renaming of streets” and added that there were “no plans to develop related policies at this time”.

Under current 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.

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

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

ABC Council and MEA Council were contacted.