Not a single bilingual sign erected in council area

Posted By: January 27, 2024


Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, January 27, 2024

A Unionist-dominated council at the center of legal action over its dual-language policy has not granted permission for a single bilingual sign to be erected in the district.

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

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

The council takes in a large part of Co Armagh and Co Down including strongly nationalist districts. It is understood no signage in Irish has been approved by the authority since its three legacy councils merged in 2015.

Sinn Féin councilor Catherine Nelson said: “Displaying dual language signage the length and breadth of our borough should be something we champion as a council.

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

“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 policies and signage, some unionist-dominated authorities have in the past resisted change. The 1995 Local

Government Order allowed for signs in English and another language.

The Irish News reported last year that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said there were no policies “relating to minority/dual languages or for the dual language/renaming of streets” or plans to develop them.

Under Armagh, Banbridge, and Craigavon Borough Council policy, applications for bilingual signs must be backed by 33% of residents in a petition to the council. This is followed by a council-managed survey, which must gain 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 favor and three against. There were 26 non-responses, leaving 69.5% in support.

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

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council were contacted.