A controversial plan to place Irish language street signs on a North Belfast street will go ahead despite local responses not meeting the council policy criteria.
At Belfast City Council’s People and Communities Committee this week, 12 elected representatives voted for the council to use discretionary powers to push through the plan to erect four Irish language signs at Clifton Street, which links the city centre into the north.
The Clifton Street application came into the spotlight last year when speculation rose concerning whether an Irish street sign would be placed on the local Orange hall, which stands on a street corner, where signs are often located. The council confirmed no signs would be placed on the hall.
A final decision on the erection of four dual language signs along the street was further delayed to await the response of one outstanding property on whether the owner or occupier supported the move.
The result revealed at this week’s council committee indicated the application for Irish signs only hit 64.3% in favour, just below the 66.6% figure required under the council’s current policy to erect the signs.
The final result showed nine occupiers (64.3%) were in favour of the erection of a second street nameplate, one occupier (7.1%) had no preference either way, two occupiers (14.3%) were not in favour of the erection of a second nameplate, and two occupiers (14.3%) did not respond to the survey.
Councillors were given legal advice at last December’s committee that given such “marginal” figures the committee could have “discretion” to go ahead and approve all four Irish street signs on Clifton Street.
All except four DUP members approved pushing through the plan. At the last committee, the party proposed placing Irish signs on three out of four locations along the street, not at Carlisle Circus which is close to the unionist lower Shankill community.
DUP Councillor Nicola Verner told the committee this week: “I don’t think we should proceed with this, it doesn’t meet the current council policy. In fact there are no exceptional circumstances forwarded from the applicants' point of view.
“I don’t think there has been any other circumstance whereby the committee has used its discretion to overturn council policy and go ahead with something that doesn’t meet the threshold.”
The committee decision to erect the signs awaits ratification at next month’s full council meeting, where it is expected to pass with support from Sinn Fein, Alliance, the Green Party, the SDLP and People Before Profit, who all voted for the plan at committee level. The signs will cost approximately £450.
A new policy for dual language signs was ratified in January last year, and is expected to replace the current policy soon. It will mean at least one resident of any Belfast street, or a councillor, is all that is required to trigger a consultation on a second nameplate, with 15% in favour being sufficient to erect the sign. The Clifton Street responses would have satisfied the incoming criterion.