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Call for change in Belfast council policy over Irish language street signs

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Sinn Fein councillor Ronan McLaughlin

Sinn Fein councillor Ronan McLaughlin

Sinn Fein councillor Ronan McLaughlin

Sinn Fein have proposed changes that will lower the barrier to erecting signs in Irish in Belfast.

Currently, the City Council policy requires one third of the eligible electorate in a Belfast street to sign a petition to begin the process.

A letter is then sent to everyone in that street on the electoral register asking for consent to bilingual signage. The resident has three options - Yes, No and Don't Care. At least two thirds of the people surveyed must be in favour of the proposal to erect a second street sign in a language other than English.

If the resident gives a 'Don't Care' reply, or if a letter is not returned, it is considered a negative response by the council.

Sinn Fein councillor for Collin, Seanna Walsh, brought a motion to this week's meeting of Belfast City Council proposing changes.

Sinn Fein is proposing the council continues with the policy of a third of the eligible electorate in the street initiating the process, but amends the policy so that 50% plus one of respondents would determine if the petition is successful.

The party also wants non-respondents and 'Don't Care' responses to be treated as void votes, and not to be considered negative responses, as with current practice.

The motion states: "This council has one of the most restrictive policies of any council in the North in regards to Irish Language Street Signage Policy."

It adds: "If we, as Elected Members, were held to the same standard as this policy in the Local Government elections, not one Member would have been returned to serve on this Council, as we would not have met those restrictive parameters."

Sinn Fein councillor Ronan McLaughlin told the council: "The move we are proposing would bring us in line with the vast majority of other councils, including Lisburn and Castlereagh. We're not trying to change the parameters in which the petition for an Irish street sign is triggered. We are still clear it would require a majority for this to happen."

He added: "I don't think any party around this chamber would put Irish language signage where it is not wanted."

Meanwhile two streets in west Belfast are getting new Irish language signs at a cost of around £300. Slieveban Avenue will have the name Ascaill an tSleibhe Bhain, and Rockville Street will appear also as Sraid Bhaile na Carraige, after ratification at the next full council meeting.

Belfast Telegraph