Members of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council have rejected residents’ request for a street sign to include the Irish language in the overwhelmingly nationalist Garvaghy Road area of Portadown.
Councillors rejected an application for a bilingual sign by residents of Woodside Hill, despite them following the council’s own policy and criteria. It had demanded that the signs must have the support of at least two-thirds of residents on the electoral roll, with non-responses assumed to be opposed to the application.
Despite being seen as unfair, the high target was comfortably passed in the council-managed survey, with 70% of Woodside Hill residents saying they wanted the new signs.
Despite the firm endorsement, the council’s planning committee rejected the residents’ application. That decision was later upheld in a narrow 21-19 vote. Both meetings were held in secret.
Iris Hagan, who lives in the area, has started the process of taking a judicial review. She points out that bilingual signs would be “an opportunity to enrich our already diverse community” and said local people were disappointed with the decision.
Cuisle Nic Liam, Language Rights Coordinator with Conradh na Gaeilge, said: “It is a legitimate expectation that local councils fulfil and honour their own policies, especially when every procedure and threshold within those policies have been followed and met.”
Lawyer Gavin Booth, of Phoenix Law, said the refusal to erect the signs “flies in the face of the express and overwhelming majority views of the residents”.
“At this stage there has been no adequate justification as to why local councillors chose to hold these meetings in secret and secondly why they refuse to set out proper reasoning for refusing to comply with the law and the wishes of the residents.”
Elsewhere, progress has been made in promoting the Irish language despite sectarian opposition and bigotry which has shown itself recently in the vandalism of bilingual signs iin Belfast.
One sign at Downview Park West in the Fortwilliam area was damaged this week for a second time and will be replaced. North Belfast SDLP Councillor Carl Whyte said “The only reason I can see why anyone would do this is prejudice and bigotry. It must stop.”