Belfast City Council inundated with requests for dual language street signs after policy change

The council has received 500 requests for dual language signs - the vast majority of which will be for Irish signs. Credit: UTV

By Michael Kenwood, Local Democracy Reporter

Belfast City Council has been inundated with requests for dual language street signs since a new change in policy in the summer.

The policy covering requirements for the erection of a street sign in a language other than English changed in July, following a public consultation survey indicating support at around 58%.

Since then the council has received 500 requests for dual language signs - the vast majority of which will be for Irish signs.

In July councillors agreed the controversial new policy would finally be implemented - 18 months after the policy was originally agreed in the chamber.

Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and the People Before Profit Party all support the new street sign policy, while the three unionist parties, the DUP, UUP and PUP, are against it.

The new policy means 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 percent in favour being sufficient to erect the sign.

Non-responses will no longer be counted as "against" votes, and there will be an equality assessment for each application.

Up until July, the policy required 33.3 percent of the eligible electorate in any Belfast street to sign a petition to begin the process, and 66.6 percent to agree to the new dual language sign on the street.

A council spokesperson said: "The council's dual language street signs policy was revised in July 2022.

"Since the new policy went live, there have been over 500 requests for dual language street signs.

"Officers are processing applications on a first-come first-serve basis. We are endeavouring to deal with requests as quickly as possible, and all applicants will be kept advised in relation to the processing of their application."

The council has written to residents to advise of a delay due to a "large volume of requests" for bilingual signs.

However some councillors are stating the local authority should act with greater urgency given the demand.

People Before Profit Councillor Matt Collins said: "The Irish language community campaigned tirelessly to overturn the council's old and regressive dual language signage policy, which stymied the visibility of the Irish language.

"It is encouraging to see so many requests come in under this new policy, but the council must commit more resources to clear the current backlog.

"Gaeilgeoirí have waited long enough for the delivery of their rights and there must be no further delay in providing bilingual street signs in this city.

"Belfast's Irish language community continues to grow and the demand for dual language street signs is sure to grow with it.

"Belfast City Council must be ready and able to meet this demand."

During the consultation period, an Equality Impact Assessment was also prepared about the new policy.

The independent consultants stated: "While the consultation has revealed a lack of consensus with regard to the proposed changes to the policy, and indeed has identified a strong division of opinion, there is nothing inherent in the feedback received to suggest that, at this time, the proposed changes should not now be adopted - but on the understanding that the policy should be subject to rigorous review after a period of two years."

On the question of whether the policy will potentially disrupt good relations, the EQIA report states that "sufficient and proportionate checks and balances have been incorporated within the application process to minimise this risk."

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