Northern Ireland

Council faces potential legal challenge over failure to have any policy on dual language street signs

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.

A LONE council faces potential legal action over an insistence it has no plans to introduce a policy on allowing dual language street signs.

Mid and East Antrim Borough will be the last without a policy on street signs other than English after it emerged Ards and North Down are moving towards adopting one.

The council said no requests to amend signs have been made and there are no plans to develop any policy.

Activists claim this may breach elements of a key 1995 law on dual language and subsequent international conventions signed by the UK.

Padraig O’Tiarnaigh, of Conradh na Gaeilge, said his organisation will be investigating the legality of not having a policy in place, while also continuing action against what activists argue are restrictive ones that make extremely difficult for residents to have ones erected.

"We are going to enquire on the legality of them not having a policy in place. We believe the 1995 order does direct local councils to have a policy facilitating access to bi-lingual services," said Mr O'Tiarnaigh.

“We would question the legality of their position.”

The 1995 Local Government Order allowed for signs in both English and another language, including Irish and Ulster Scots, with councils given responsibility.

While the order does not authorise or require councils to erection dual language signs, other local authorities have received legal advice that they should introduce a policy under both the 1995 provisions and subsequent conventions protecting the rights of minorities and their languages.

In a statement, Mid and East Antrim said: "Councils are enacted under the...Order...with responsibility for new street names, signage, renaming etc. However MEA have had no requests to change or amend any thus far. There are currently no policies relating to minority/dual languages or for the dual language/renaming of streets. There are no plans to develop related policies at this time."

Antrim and Newtownabbey did introduce a policy on signs which stated they must be in English. This was challenged legally and the council folded, eventually drawing up a policy in 2018 but which was only passed last year.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), an activist group that supports the drive to allow residents the choice to have dual language signs, said the 1995 law "aimed to put an end to English-only policies for street signage".

Daniel Holder, of the CAJ, said: "Policies emerging from it should be in line with the commitments to the Irish language in the GFA and language treaties. It is very difficult to see how a council can comply with the law without having some sort of policy and process for dealing with applications that takes into account the desire for signage by residents in a street.”

There are sharp differences in the policies of the different council areas, with the process much easier in areas with a majority of nationalist and republicans.

In those with a unionist majority, an application first needs the support of a petition containing not less than one third of those aged 18 and over and on the electoral register.