Belfast Telegraph

Woman loses legal bid to have an Irish street sign erected

By Alan Erwin

A woman who tried to force Belfast City Council to erect signs in Irish in her street has had her case thrown out by a High Court judge.

Lawyers for Ballymurphy Drive resident Eileen Reid argued that the council's refusal was unlawful and in breach of an obligation to promote Irish.

But Mr Justice Horner yesterday dismissed all grounds of the west Belfast woman's challenge.

He rejected her argument that the council's requirement for two-thirds of households in the street to declare their support for dual language signs was unreasonable.

"Unfortunately, in Northern Ireland's deeply divided society many on each side of the political and cultural divide, rightly or wrongly, see the other's language, whether it be Irish or Ulster-Scots, as associating that community with a particular political point of view," the judge said.

"In those circumstances it cannot be unreasonable to require clear and convincing evidence on the part of those who occupy the street that they want an additional street name plate in another language apart from English."

Ms Reid had argued that the refusal was unlawful and in breach of a legal obligation to promote Irish.

Out of 92 eligible residents on the street canvassed by Belfast City Council, 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.

But because the other 39 residents did not respond to the survey the two-thirds requirement was not met.

According to Ms Reid's legal team, these non-returned votes were wrongly counted as being opposed to dual signs.

The court heard how a city council policy drawn up in 1995 estimated it would cost around £200,000 to provide second language street plates over a five-year period.

Another £30,000 a year would be required for additional staff and resources around the administrative systems and procedures.

Three years later the policy was implemented on the basis that it should be "reactive in nature".

As part of the process the council retains an overriding discretion in deciding whether a street name plate should be erected.

Between 1998 and 2013 180 applications were made.

Out of those 144 were approved and 34 were not progressed due to insufficient responses to council surveys.

Mr Justice Horner stressed that he was not concerned with the merits of whether there should be an Irish sign at Ballymurphy Drive.

He was only examining whether the council's process was lawful.

Rejecting her arguments in the judicial review challenge, the judge described the argument that non-voters should not have been taken into account as "fundamentally flawed".

He added: "Those who did not return their surveys can have been in no doubt as to the consequences of their inaction."

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