A council in the north of Ireland has threatened a pensioner with a conviction and fine for placing the Irish name for her estate on a sign beside the one with the English language version.
The 85-year-old woman from Randalstown in County Antrim received the letter from her unionist-dominated local council, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, last week.
The sign was placed on railings outside her home in the mainly nationalist Ashdale estate. It reads ‘Gleann na Fuinseoige’, an Irish language translation of Ashdale. The letter claims that it has been erected without planning permission.
“This unauthorised sign should be removed within one week of the date of this letter,” it states. “The council wishes to emphasise that unless you undertake to put the matter right you may be prosecuted.”
The letter adds that “the display of an unauthorised advertisement is an offence” and that conviction can result in a maximum fine of £2,500 “with further daily fines of £250 for each day on which the advertisement continues to be displayed”.
The council’s action appears to be openly discriminatory -- it was previously forced to abandon a ban on Irish-language street signs after being hauled to court for discrimination.
The pensioner’s granddaughter, Medb Ní Dhúláin, said threatening a pensioner with a conviction and fine was “an outrageous response and abuse of power”.
She said that the sign does not breach planning regulations.
“The council has done little to nothing to protect and support the language, as they are obliged to under various treaties, and instead focus their energies on targeting those that erect small Irish signs on their own property,” she said.
Daniel Holder, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said: “The council is under a duty to allow and encourage Irish place name signs. It should rescind the threat to prosecute now.”
Extreme unionists and loyalists frequently object to anything which displays Ireland’s native language in the north of Ireland. Unionist commentator Newton Emerson this week described the Randalstown placename sign as “like putting a [Irish] flag out”.
Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly slammed the hypocrisy of the council for threatening to clamp down on displays of Irish identity “while turning a blind eye to illegal loyalist bonfires, paramilitary flags and banners proclaiming support for an alleged murderer”.
He said: “This is the same council which attempted to bring in an ‘English Only’ policy and only relented in the face of a judicial review.
“It is also the same council that funded loyalist bonfires where flags and election posters were burned. Similarly, no action is ever taken to remove illegal loyalist paramilitary flags,” he said.
“It is hypocritical and something we see repeated in other unionist-dominated councils. They seek to stamp out any displays of Irish identity while turning a blind eye to illegal loyalist bonfires, paramilitary flags and banners proclaiming support for Soldier F – an alleged murderer who is charged with killing civilians on Bloody Sunday.
“Given the behaviour of unionist parties within these councils, it is clear why legislative protection is needed for the Irish language, identity and culture.”