Northern Ireland news

Council threatens to prosecute 85-year-old woman over Irish language street sign

The pensioner's granddaughter, Medb Ní Dhúláin, with the Irish street sign
Connla Young

A COUNCIL has threatened to prosecute an 85-year-old woman for having an Irish language street sign on her property.

The pensioner from Randalstown received the letter from Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council last week.

The sign reads ‘Gleann na Fuinseoige’ and is on railings outside her home in the mainly nationalist Ashdale estate.

The letter, addressed to “the owner/occupier”, claims that it has been erected without planning consent. “This unauthorised sign should be removed within one week of the date of this letter,” it states. “The council wishes to emphasise that unless you undertake to put the matter right you may be prosecuted.” The letter adds that “the display of an unauthorised advertisement is an offence” and that conviction can result in a maximum fine of £2,500 “with further daily fines of £250 for each day on which the advertisement continues to be displayed”.

The letter sent to the pensioner in Randalstown

The unionist-dominated council was forced into a U-turn last year over a ban on Irish-language street signs.

The High Court heard that the decision to set aside the English-only policy came after a challenge by a resident who claimed it amounted to discrimination. 

The council said the policy “was not a ban in any way on the Irish language” but a new policy would be drafted.

The pensioner’s granddaughter, Medb Ní Dhúláin, said threatening a pensioner with a conviction and fine was “an outrageous response and abuse of power”.

“The council has done little to nothing to protect and support the language, as they are obliged to under various treaties, and instead focus their energies on targeting those that erect small Irish signs on their own property,” she said.

Ms Ní Dhúláin claimed that the sign does not breach planning regulations.

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin of Irish-language campaign group An Dream Dearg said: “The only long-term solution that would put an end to these regressive attacks is strong Irish-language legislation that sets out legal guidance around the visibility and use of our native language.”

Daniel Holder, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the council should “move quickly to clarify the basis of their policy”, adding that “if this practice is not applied consistently to other forms of cultural expression the obvious question of a discriminatory approach arises”.

Last night the council said the letter was sent “following receipt of a complaint from a member of the public”. 

A spokeswoman said the sign “constitutes a breach of planning control”.

“It should be noted that the Advertisement Regulations make provision for the council to erect street signs but does not permit residents to erect their own street signs,” she said.

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