ANTRIM and Newtownabbey Borough Council is to hold a 12-week community consultation on the provision of dual language street signs after a draft policy was agreed behind closed doors.

It is understood that a draft process would involve a petition of a street’s residents followed by a postal vote before being returned to the Council for consideration.

The views of statutory bodies such as the PSNI, Royal Mail, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Ambulance Service may also be taken into consideration.

If successful, a second language sign with smaller lettering would be placed below the English sign.

Sinn Féin Glengormley councillor Michael Goodman criticised the draft dual language consultation, describing it is "a de facto English language policy proposal". 

“This draft dual language policy proposed  for consultation by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council is in reality an English language-only policy proposal," he said.

“I’m calling for an effective and inclusive dual language policy in this borough to reflect the rapidly growing Irish language sector which includes schools, organisations and the many individuals that speak Irish in their daily lives in this  Council area.

“This current proposal is so restrictive that it will be almost unachievable to introduce dual language signage and is nothing more than tokenism.

“The days of Irish language speakers sitting at the back of the bus are over and let me be absolutely clear, equality is indivisible.

“Nothing short of full inclusion and equality is acceptable and I am calling on ratepayers of the borough to respond to this consultation making their views known.

“I’m dismayed at some political parties on this council that are actually supporting this unacceptable proposal while they hide behind the language of inclusion.”

SDLP group leader Councillor Roisin Lynch added: “I was disappointed that councillors decided to support this deeply restrictive policy. It is a shameless and deliberate attempt to slow down and stymy efforts for dual language signage.

“There can be little doubt that this onerous policy is designed to obstruct efforts to progress the visibility of Gaeilge in our local communities.

"I am particularly disappointed that Alliance Party councillors backed a policy designed to restrict the growth of the language.

“It is of vital importance that the Irish language is given the visibility it deserves and that anyone who wishes to see bilingual signage in their area has access to a fair and transparent process.

"This is a slap in the face to those in our communities, including myself, who know that we need to break down barriers to the visibility of the the Irish language, not create new ones.”

Antrim and Newtownabbey Mayor Councillor Billy Webb said: "This is not an Irish language policy. This is a multi-lingual policy. We are a diverse community.

“The policy is going out to consultation. We were looking for one-third of residents of a street to instigate an application and then 50 per cent plus one in the actual vote. That is a normal and true democratic process. The DUP was looking for two-thirds.”

A Council spokesperson said: “Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has agreed a draft policy for consultation on the provision of dual language street signs.

"The consultation with key stakeholders will run for a period of 12 weeks.”