Lisburn Castlereagh councillors reject motion on bilingual street signs

Lisburn Castlereagh councillors have firmly rejected a motion calling for a new bilingual street sign policy.

Sinn Fein Cllr Ryan Carlin brought forward the motion to Lisburn and Castlreagh City Council s (LCCC) monthly full council meeting on Tuesday evening.

Under the policy, the council would be able to erect a sign if more than 15% of residents were in favour.

It would have also required only one resident or their local councillor to come forward with the request to erect a bilingual street sign.

Meanwhile, before the Sinn Fein Cllr read the motion, he thanked the council in Irish for bringing it forward causing DUP Cllr Ule Mackin to intervene asking: “Mr Mayor, what is he saying?”

The intervention led to Lisburn Castlereagh Mayor Nicholas Trimble to ask for calm in the chamber, saying there should be “no further outbursts” for members.

Ulster Unionist Mayor Trimble did ask Cllr Carlin to speak in English during the motions “salient points”, however.

Councillor Carlin added that the Irish Language was “alive and well” within the council area, saying LCCC had one of the “most restrictive policies” anywhere in Northern Ireland.

However, members of the LCC Council said the policy was “divisive” and “undemocratic”.

DUP Councillor Alan Givan said the motion would cause “adverse community tensions” in Lisburn and Castlereagh, saying his party would be voting against the motion.

He added: “Some people would regard the addition of a Irish sign as cultural branding of an area.

“The motion allowing 15% to make that decision, overriding the 85% of an area who wishes would’ve been overridden, that would be unfair and undemocratic.

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“The motion would damage community relations in many areas of Lisburn and Castlereagh which are currently living in harmony.”

Cllr added that he would not support having an “Ulster Scot, Polish, Romanian or Portuguese” signage in the council area and that ‘everyone had a duty to learn the English language’.

SDLP Councillor John McCarthy called for the councillor to back the motion saying it would be “Human Rights compliant” and take into consideration those who speak minority languages.

He added: “I come from a family of Irish speakers but I say those people who made unsanctioned contributions during the proposers speak, they would be keen to promote the cultural and heritage of our area.

“It an amazing piece of culture that should be recognised and I believe we should back the motion.”

It is unknown how much the erection of new dual language signs in the council would have cost if adopted.

Alliance proposed an alternative to Sinn Fein’s motion, adding while the party remained “supportive” towards Irish language but that it would cause “disharmony” for residents.

“The fact that no enquiries have been made to the council for dual signs demonstrates either there is no demand for change, or that this council can be more proactive in highlighting the current policy,” Councillor Aaron McIntyre added.

“Alliance supports and embraces the Irish language, recognising its importance as part of our shared history and identity.

“However, due to the lack of detail about the application of this proposal and the risk that the low threshold suggested will have a politicising effect rather than encouraging participation in our shared identity, we cannot support this motion as it stands.”

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34 councillors from the DUP, UUP and Alliance Party voted against the motion, with five Sinn Fein, SDLP and Green Party in favour.

Councillor Carlin said it was ” extremely disappointing” that members of LCCC had decided to block change to the bilingual street signage policy.

He added that Sinn Fein would be seeking legal advice on this issue over the coming weeks.

“This runs contrary to the growing and vibrant Irish language community across our council area.

“The current bilingual signage policy is outdated and does not reflect this changing community and desire to see bilingual signage erected across the council area

“International and European guidance states that signage is a key factor in raising awareness of a minority language and given that many place names derive from the Irish Language, it makes sense that that rich culture of place names is represented.

“This results in a bizarre scenario where residents in Lagmore need the support of 15% to erect bilingual signage, while residents a few miles up the road in Lisburn have to go through an outdated policy which has been challenged multiple times in the courts.”

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