Residents of Woodside Hill overcame all obstacles and demonstrated significant demand for dual language street signage. It is understood at least 64 residents voted in favour and only 3 against, but ABC Council voted down the application, contrary to their own policy.
An application for dual language street signage has been refused by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, despite the high thresholds in its own policy being clearly met and residents following all appropriate Council procedures.
Under the Council’s current dual language street policy, applications must be supported by a petition from 33% of residents supporting the application; this petition was submitted by the resident to the Council in September 2022. Following a 6 month delay, the Council then carried out a postal survey of all residents of Woodside Hill at the end of January 2023.
According to the procedural criteria set out in the ABC Council Policy on dual-language street signage, applications require 66%+ (⅔+) support from residents on the electoral register of the street in order to be successful. Non-responses are automatically deemed as votes against the application. This policy criteria has been criticised by language groups, human-rights NGOs and international treaty oversight committees in recent years.
Despite the extremely high threshold, it is understood the Woodside Hill application obtained the required support and was deemed valid, with at least 64 resident votes in favour and only 3 residents voting against. This is the first time that an application in this council area has successfully surpassed all of the criteria; two previous applications failed to achieve the necessary majorities of support.
However, following tonight’s meeting of the full Council, it was revealed that the Woodside Hill application was subsequently rejected by ABC Council’s Planning Committee. The Planning Committee’s decision was then ratified by the full council tonight.
Cuisle Nic Liam, Language Rights Coordinator with Conradh na Gaeilge, said:
“Firstly, this policy seems to have copied the old Belfast City Council Policy, which was discarded last year in favour of a more progressive, minority-rights’ compliant policy which is in line with best-practice guidance from both the Council of Europe and the United Nations.”
“We are extremely frustrated, not only with the significant delays regarding the application itself, but with the Council’s outright refusal to honour their own policy, as well as their blatant disregard for the vast majority of residents who voted in favour of this application. In this case it is understood at least 64 residents voted in favour, and only 3 residents actively voting against. In spite of the extremely high thresholds of support set by the Council which is required for street signs in Irish to be approved, against all odds, it succeeded.”
“Our placenames can teach us so much about the shared history and heritage of an area; the fact that Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council have now actively rejected this valid application means not only that they have missed a unique opportunity here to embrace and celebrate the Irish language, but have, in the process, brought into question their intention of ever honouring their dual language street signage policy. It casts yet another long shadow across those parties who oppose legitimate language rights in this area, the DUP and the UUP in particular who blocked and denied this application. We will now be supporting residents to explore seeking remedy through the courts.”
Daniel Holder Director of the Belfast-based human rights NGO the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) said:
“The outworkings of GFA were meant to mark a shift from the old ‘English-only’ policies of excluding the Irish language from public space to an approach based on linguistic diversity. Specific commitments were signed up to in human rights treaties to promote the Irish language, including those relevant to placenames and bilingual signage, yet implementation has continued to be resisted.”
“The ABC Council policy already contains one of the most draconian sets of unnecessarily high thresholds for bilingual street signage, an approach abandoned by other Councils. Yet even when these thresholds are met, it appears that the Council has not followed its own policy.”
- A total of 95 residents were surveyed.
- The policy requires two thirds of residents to respond in favour of the application for it to be deemed successful.
- The threshold target of two thirds of 95 residents is 64 responses. It is understood the threshold was surpassed.
- It is understood a total of 3 responses (3.1%) were marked against the application.
- This new ABC Dual-Language Signage Policy has been in place since 2020.
Cuisle Nic Liam
Language Right Co-ordinator, Conradh na Gaeilge
Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh
Communications Manager, Conradh na Gaeilge
Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)
Twitter: @cnag | @caj_ni
Conradh na Gaeilge is the democratic forum for the Irish-speaking community. The Conradh has over 200 branches and numerous individual members registered around the world, members that work hard to promote the use of Irish in their own areas. Conradh na Gaeilge’s main aim is to promote the use of Irish as the standard language in Ireland. Conradh na Gaeilge was established by Douglas Hyde, Eoin Mac Néill, and their colleagues on the 31st of July 1893. The organisation runs Irish-language courses; advocates for the language rights of Irish-speakers; raises awareness about the language; hosts the international Irish-language festival Seachtain na Gaeilge; manages the Irish-language information hub PEIG.ie and the Irish-language bookshop An Siopa Leabhar; supports Raidió Rí-Rá; and much more. More information: www.cnag.ie
The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) is an independent human rights organisation with cross community membership, established in 1981, that works to ensure compliance with obligations under international human rights law. CAJ engages regularly with the Council of Europe and United Nations treaty bodies. More information: https://caj.org.uk/