Belfast City Council has voted to adopt a new policy on bilingual street signs.

Last night’s vote has undone a decades-old policy implemented by unionists in the 1980s to make it more difficult for the installation of Irish language street signs.  

The new policy will allow for a consultation on erection of a bilingual street sign to begin following an expression of interest by at least one resident or councillor. 

A percentage of 15 per cent of residents is required to carry the change.

The plan was backed by members of the Strategic Policy & Resources committee and was approved at Thursday night’s full Council meeting, which was held remotely. 

Sinn Féin Councillor Séanna Walsh said the new process will ensure an equitable and progressive policy.

“This is an historic day as Belfast City Council has voted to adopt a new bilingual policy which will ensure the visibility of Irish street signage in the city and advance a new, progressive and shared Belfast,” he said.

“Belfast has been central to the ongoing growth of the Irish language and Gaeilge is part of the fabric of our city as seen with the vibrant Gaeltacht Quarter and the growing numbers of unionists now embracing and learning the language.

“This new and progressive bilingual street signage policy will ensure that this growth continues and is represented in our street signage.”

A DUP spokesperson said the new policy was “grossly unfair and unbalanced”.

“Many people regard the addition of an Irish street sign as cultural branding of their area,” the spokesperson said.

“For all those who are passionate about having their street name added in Irish, there are as many people who are passionate about not having this done against their wishes.”

Last night’s meeting also saw the council back a motion calling for fines and prosecutions against Black Lives Matter protesters to be dropped.

The motion by People Before Profit comes after last month’s Police Ombudsman report which found that the PSNI's handling of anti-racism protests held in Belfast and Derry in June was unfair and discriminatory.

Police had faced criticism after fining Black Lives Matter protesters for allegedly breaching Covid restrictions, while other gatherings –  including a far-right demonstration at City Hall – did not face similar action.

In July, People Before Profit tabled a similar motion calling for the fines and prosecutions to be dropped. However, the council stopped short of doing so due to an amendment by Sinn Féin, which instead offered solidarity with Black Lives Matter and expressed concern about the PSNI's actions.

As well as calling for fines and prosecutions to be dropped, last night’s motion by People Before Profit Councillor Matt Collins backs calls by Black Lives Matter activists for a “real and robust racial equality strategy to help tackle the systemic problem of institutional racism".

Cllr Collins said he is “delighted” to see the motion pass.

“Shame it took an Ombudsman report showing discrimination and human rights abuses to make some parties support this,” he said. “But without pressure from activists the big parties would still be on the fence.”

Cllr Collins branded the DUP, UUP and PUP’s refusal to back the motion as “disgraceful”.

He added: “Drop the fines and threats of prosecutions. Black lives matter.”