Belfast City Council poll shows support for new bilingual road sign policy

The advisory poll showed majority support for the new bilingual road sign policy in Belfast.

Elfast City Council has published a consultation report on the proposed changes to the bilingual street sign policy and the findings of the attached Equity Impact Assessment.

At a full council meeting this month, council members agreed to a controversial new “take effect” policy – 18 months after the policy was originally agreed in the House. Sinn Féin, the Alliance, the SDLP, the Green Party and the People Over Profit support the new road sign policy, while the three trade union parties voted against.

The new policy means that at least one resident of any Belfast street or council member is all that is required for a second nameplate to be consulted, with 15 percent of the vote sufficient to install the sign.

So far, the policy has required 33.3 percent of the eligible electorate on any street in Belfast to sign a petition to start the process, and 66.6 percent to agree to a new bilingual street sign. Non-responses will no longer be counted as no votes and an equality assessment will be conducted for each entry.

Public consultations were available online from November last year to February this year. 1078 written replies were received – 785 in English and 293 in Irish.

Of the 854 respondents who answered the community origin question, 297 people (37.8 percent) indicated they were of Protestant origin, 276 people (35.1 percent) indicated they were of Catholic origin, and 213 people (27.1 percent) indicated neither Catholic nor Protestant. Responses were received from every postcode in Belfast, with the largest number of responses coming from North and West Belfast.

The cumulative responses were in favor of the four proposed policy changes, when respondents were asked to agree or disagree.

The change in the way bilingual street signs were applied showed 59 percent strongly agree, 0.9 percent neither agree nor disagree, and 40.1 percent strongly disagree. A change in the consent threshold for bilingual street signs showed 58.7% strongly agree, 0.6% neither agree nor disagree, and 40.7% strongly disagree.

A change in the consent threshold for bilingual street signs showed 58.7% strongly agree, 0.6% neither agree nor disagree, and 40.7% strongly disagree. Changes in how non-responses are classified showed 62 percent strongly agree, 3 percent neither agree nor disagree, and 35 percent strongly disagree.

The report states: “The officers analyzed the written comments to determine the topics of the responses. The takeaways from this were that those who were generally opposed to the proposed changes commented negatively on the cost and how a minority could force the implementation of proposed policies on communities, thereby causing division or tension.

“Those who support the proposed policy are positive about how it will increase awareness of the Irish language and promote equality and inclusion. Respondents also noted that the proposed policy would be in line with best practices led by the UN Special Rapporteur.”

The final report of the Equity Impact Assessment consultants states: “While the consultations revealed a lack of consensus on the proposed policy changes and did reveal strong differences of opinion, the feedback received from suggest that the proposed changes should not be adopted at this time, but on the understanding that the policy should be subject to a thorough review in two years’ time.

Regarding policies that could damage good relations, the EQIA report stated that “sufficient and proportionate checks and balances have been incorporated into the application process to minimize this risk.”