Sinn Féin has questioned Belfast Council’s “willingness to move” on a strategy for Irish language signage in the city.
The move came after the authority failed to meet requests for Irish signs at the new visitor center at City Cemetery on the Falls.
At Friday’s meeting of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Sinn Féin party group leader, Councilor Ciaran Beattie, said the council “had to get its act together” on implementing commitments around bi-lingual signage working groups and forums that had been agreed by the council over a year ago, but which had not been yet met.
He referred specifically to the failure so far of the council to act on the demand for Irish signage in the new visitor center at the City Cemetery, a location in the city’s Gaeltacht area.
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The committee agreed to his proposal to immediately look at the Irish language requests for City Cemetery, and to further develop the strategy for new signage, other than street signage, which was agreed last year.
Councilor Beattie told the chamber: “I am sure many of you have received this request, we certainly have, concerning the bilingual signage at the Visitor’s Center in the City Cemetery. My first proposal is that we act on this – we do need to implement it.
“This is not a new suggestion. If you go back to the Language Strategy that we launched on April 23rd 2021 – this was in the report of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, and ratified at the following May’s council meeting. Yet it has not yet been acted upon or even discussed with anyone. ”
He added: “On the wider issue of the language, we have talked about the length of time it takes things to get through this council in terms of action.
“In that same report it mentions a cross-party bi-annual / quarterly language strategy member working group, a new external language forum, and an internal language strategy.
“To my knowledge there are only two of the internal meetings that have taken place. The outside forum hasn’t even been convened. So a year later, after having all these suggestions in, we haven’t even acted on a meeting.
“This just gives you an indication of the willingness of this council to move on some of these issues. I think we need to get our act together – it is getting beyond a joke. We’ve talked about the bi-lingual signage and how long it has taken to get through the council.
“It just seems to be anything to do with the language, there is a resistance to it – it’s just“ slow it down, kick it down the line and hope people forget about it. ”
Alliance party group leader, Councilor Michael Long, said: “There does seem to be an issue on how we develop signage in new locations, and generally just in terms of visibility of the Irish language, and indeed other languages.
“I think it would be useful for us to take this away and look at it again, as we did with the leisure centers, where we had an overall policy for the city. I think specifically, that area is part of the Gaeltacht area, so there may be issues why that project should have bilingual signage.
“We need to look at how we consult and represent the language right across the city in terms of new signs and venues. I don’t think we have a consistent approach to that yet, and we should look at it.
“Unfortunately, with this particular proposal, because we don’t seem to have a policy it went through without consideration.” He said the council had to get an overall policy “and have it quickly implemented.”
Chief Executive John Walsh said: “We did agree in the overarching language strategy that we would be looking at the issue of bilingual and trilingual signage going forward.”
He added: “That hasn’t moved forward at a sufficient pace. If we have any of these new developments coming in, where we think there may be some sort of demand in terms of language, well then we will just bring it in for a decision, until we have the policy established. Because we are just going to go round and round on this until we have a policy. ”
Councilor Beattie said: “These suggestions have been coming to us in the last few years. If we are not meeting to develop a policy, it will never happen. But this is ready to open, the signs are there to put up. We need an interim measure. But we need to convene those meetings ”
The Chief Executive said he would “try to develop those meetings, and ensure they are more frequent.”
In January 2021 the council agreed to a new street sign policy which directed that at least one resident of any Belfast street, or a councilor, would be all that is required to trigger a consultation on a second nameplate, with 15 percent in favor being sufficient to erect the sign.
Before that, the policy required 33 percent of the eligible electorate in any Belfast street to sign a petition to begin the process.
Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party, and the People Before Profit Party all supported the new street sign policy, while the three unionist parties, the DUP, UUP and PUP, were all against it.
The new policy has not yet been implemented. At Friday’s meeting of the council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, an agenda item on the new policy’s public consultation and equality screening was held in secret away from the public.
The reason given on the council’s website for the item’s privacy was “By virtue of Paragraph 3 Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the council holding that information).”
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