Upper Springfield language activists take matters into their own hands
Today local residents from Ballymurphy Drive along with activists and young people working with Glór na Móna, the Irish language community and youth organisation in the area, took the campaign for bilingual signage into their own hands in homage to the famous Shaws Road Gaeltacht dictum, ‘Na hAbair é, Déan é (Don’t say it, Do it).
Residents have been lobbying and campaigning in the street for an official bilingual sign since 2013. Out of 92 eligible residents on the street canvassed by Belfast City Council, 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, a majority of residents in the street. However, because the other 39 did not respond to the survey, the two-thirds requirement was not met.
With a majority of residents responding positively to bilingual signage and still being refused, a local resident took a judicial review against the two thirds quota policy but this was thrown out of court and the judge supported the council policy and stated the Irish language had no legal standing in this jurisdiction.
The case and Belfast city council’s current policy was then taken to the Court of Appeal, but was halted when the Council agreed to refer the Ballymurphy Drive application to the relevant committee of political representatives in Belfast city council.
Again after a third attempt to achieve a bilingual street sign in Ballymurphy Drive, the wishes of residents were again ignored when the Belfast city council were unable to find political consensus on the issue and voted against the name change by continuing to support the current policy with a majority of 26-24.
The residents and young peoples’ frustrations led to today’s course of action where young people decided to make their own unofficial Irish language sign and local residents erected it on their behalf.
Speaking as a resident of the street and local Irish language activists, Conchur Ó Muadaigh stated:
‘It is disheartening that in 2016 that local residents and citizens of Belfast have had to revert back to the same approach used in the 1980s when Irish language signage was erected illegally by language activists demanding equality and recognition. Outdated policies were eventually changed with the onset of the peace process but Belfast city council remain in the dark ages with those who fail to respond to petitions being classed as ‘no’ votes.
‘Three years after spearheading this local campaign for bilingual signage in Ballymurphy Drive in 2013, the people of our area are still waiting to be treated equally.
‘Having been denied our rights in court and been unable to affect a change in this discriminatory policy in the local political authority, local Gaels have decided to follow the famous Shaws Road dictum, ‘Na hAbair é, Déan é’ (don’t say it, do it) by taking matters into our own hands.
‘This sorry state of affairs is a reflection of the institutional disregard that the Irish language speaking communities in Belfast and across the north still finds itself in, despite over 20 years of a peace process. The fact of the matter is, that Irish speakers still have our rights denied and continue to suffer from outdated policies and discrimination that are a legacy from our colonial past
To echo the words of renowned anti-colonial activist, Alberto Memmi, ‘to forego the use of the coloniser’s language, he must change the signs and the highway markings, even if he is the first to be inconvenienced.’
In 2016, the Irish language community are entitled to legal protection and human rights safeguards to ensure we are being treated equally. This action today underlines the importance of a rights-based Irish language act and adds to the current campaign to lobby local political authorities, the Stormont Executive and Westminster to take action enshrine the rights of Irish speakers in the north of Ireland.’