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Review of Mid-Ulster council dual-language policy voted down as cost concerns raised

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Mid Ulster District Council offices

Mid Ulster District Council offices

Mid Ulster District Council offices

A proposal to review Mid Ulster District Council’s dual-language street sign policy was voted down at a meeting of its environment committee.

The issue surrounding the policy was raised by the council’s vice chair, Councillor Meta Graham.

Addressing the committee, UUP Councillor Graham said she was confused by the wording of the policy when compared with its implementation.

“The policy says dual language signs are to be erected adjacent to the name plate in English,” she said.

“Whenever I was at school adjacent to meant beside, not above or below it. To put them side-by-side gives both equality.

"My question is, why is this not done and if it were to be done perhaps there would not so much vandalism of the signs.”

In response, Sinn Fein councillor John McNamee said: “The reason why the signs are like this is because of council policy.

“A sub-group has sat down and worked through this and that is what the recommendation was.”

DUP councillor Clement Cuthbertson said in light of the current financial situation the policy does need to be looked at.

He said: “We have heard ... there is no actual budget for it.

“Given this, I think it is very disappointing there are elected members on various social media platforms advertising to communities about getting this ‘free signage’.

“There is nothing free about it, the rate payers are paying for it and I think it has to be looked at, in relation to the expense of it.”

UUP Councillor Trevor Wilson then proposed the policy be reviewed in a similar fashion to council’s bus shelter policy.

“Obviously the proposal is not going to get us anywhere,” he said.

“It is going to be a vote but I do think we should have a look at it and see if there is a fairer way of doing it and I would make that a proposal.”

The proposal was seconded by Councillor Cuthbertson.

Councillor McNamee asked for clarity on what was being proposed and was told by Mr Wilson that he would like the policy to consider the number of surveys issued against the number of responses and if that is reflective of the people in the area.

“I am only asking for it be reviewed,” said Councillor Wilson.

Cllr Brian McGuigan pointed out that was already underway.

“The letters go out and are returned, we see the figures. I don’t know why this has to be looked at again,” he said.

His party colleague, John McNamee said the working group had spent plenty of time on the policy.

“I don’t think it needs any review at this stage and I propose it remains as is,” said Cllr McNamee.

The proposal was seconded by Cllr McGuigan.

Cllr Wilson’s proposal was then put to a vote with six committee members voting for it and seven voting against it.

Following the vote, Councillor Graham expressed concern about money being wasted on requests.

She called into question a hand-written request that was verified and resulted in 19 letters being sent out with no responses returned.

“There is an awful lot of money being wasted in applications like this and we have to be an awful lot more careful as to how it is spent,” She said.

A council officer explained there is one member of staff who deals with the requests and verifies them based on the electoral register.

Ulster Unionist Councillor Mark Glasgow said it was disappointing that this had occurred.

“As the public looks to us as a council, in this Covid situation we will probably have to make cuts somewhere to save money,” He said.

“When the public looks at this, I think they might want to ask why 19 letters with 19 stamps were sent out and zero responses were returned.

“In this case I do think the costing should be brought back.”

Attempting to shine a light on the situation Sinn Fein councillor Joe O’Neill said the street in question already had an Irish language sign.

“I think some other councillor has already put a letter forward and it was already in the system,” said Cllr O’Neill.

When Cllr Glasgow enquired as to how that could happen a council officer said there was no record of the sign.

“We had no record whatsoever that there was a sign there,” said the council officer.

“There was a record of what had been previously erected in Magherafelt but we have no record of them being installed in the Dungannon and South Tyrone legacy council area.

“It had not been erected in the time of Mid Ulster Council and during the duration of this policy, so therefore we went through the process as normal.”

Belfast Telegraph