Mid Ulster bilingual signage 'debacle' prompts calls for new survey

Controversy is continuing after Mid Ulster council staff came close to erecting a bilingual Irish-English sign in Dungannon following confusion over the outcome of a residents’ survey.
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Councillor Barry Monteith (Independent, Dungannon DEA) has demanded clarity over the situation and a new survey over the request to put up the new sign at Rossmore Road, Dungannon

A few weeks ago, council staff came very close to erecting the signage when they were informed that a survey on the issue had apparently returned an inaccurate result.

It was initially thought that 60 per cent of respondents were in favour of bilingual signage on the Rossmore Road when it then appeared to be just 50 per cent – just below the 51 per cent threshold required for the provision of signage in both English and Irish.

There is confusion regarding the outcome of a survey on the provision of bilingual Irish-English signage on the Rossmore Road, Dungannon. Picture: GoogleThere is confusion regarding the outcome of a survey on the provision of bilingual Irish-English signage on the Rossmore Road, Dungannon. Picture: Google
There is confusion regarding the outcome of a survey on the provision of bilingual Irish-English signage on the Rossmore Road, Dungannon. Picture: Google

A report furnished to Environment Committee members, back on January 8, explained just how close the local authority came to providing the signage.

“On December 6, 2023, when attempting to erect the new dual-language signage, Council was approached by several residents of Rossmore Road and an elected member, and made aware of the outcome of the survey that they had received, which contradicted the erection of the nameplate,” the report read.

A month on, however, there are still question marks regarding the survey, and Cllr Monteith was quite vocal on the issue at a recent full council meeting of Mid Ulster District Council.

He stated: “It’s in relation to the debacle or the farcical [decision] that has been made in relation to an application for Irish language signage in the Rossmore Road in Dungannon.

Councillor Barry Monteith.  Picture: Mid Ulster DCCouncillor Barry Monteith.  Picture: Mid Ulster DC
Councillor Barry Monteith. Picture: Mid Ulster DC

“I have been contacted – as other councillors have been – by a number of residents who are irate at how this was handled by the council, or had seemed to have been handled by the council.

“I have at least two homes who were never informed of the original decision and were never informed of the subsequent decision, so I would like to get a bit of clarity.

“How did other residents and other elected members become aware on December 6 that the decision was not to erect the signs? Who informed those residents?

“Would all residents not have been entitled to that information, and indeed would all elected members not have been entitled to that decision?”

Council chairman, Councillor Dominic Molloy (Sinn Féin, Dungannon DEA) explained that he was equally confused.

“I have to agree. I’ve been trying to get my head around the process,” he said.

“I have understood the process as to what happened, but in in terms of communication it has been an issue we have referred back to the Environment Committee.”

Councillor Monteith continued: “We need clarity as to how some sections of the elected body were informed, some residents were informed, and others weren’t.

“There’s a bit of an issue [as to] when a subsequent fresh application could be made.

“The policy states that it can only be 12 months after the Environment Committee refuses it, but under our corporate government policy, the Environment Committee has no authority to either refuse or to accept, because there was a decision made in relation to the policy around this, because of filibustering and messing about in the Environment Committee about every single application.

“I think we made a thorough mess of this. The only fair thing to do, in my opinion, is to reissue the surveys immediately, and I would so propose tonight.”

This was seconded by Councillor Dan Kerr (Independent, Torrent DEA), who stated: “There’s just far too much confusion. For the confidence of the public I think we should reissue the surveys and keep elected representatives and residents informed of the decision going ahead.”

Chief executive of Mid Ulster District Council, Adrian McCreesh explained that the matter would be considered at the next Environment Committee meeting: “The comments are well made and taken on board. Obviously there’s a lot in them and they need to be explored in great detail.

“In relation to the policy and the pre-work and the pre-decisions that you refer to, this requires consideration.

“This needs to be referred back to the appropriate committee to be reconsidered. I’m very happy to do that – better than making decisions on the hoof here tonight.

“And we cannot take a vote on my view on whether or not we should reissue the surveys, because that is the policy of the council.

“The appropriate course of action is that the comments are taken on board, considered by the officer team, referred back to the committee for the next meeting, and reconsidered within the committee.”

Councillor Deirdre Varsani (Sinn Féin, Dungannon DEA) was concerned to hear that an elected representative – unnamed in the January 8 Environment Committee report – had seemingly intervened to interrupt council staff in their work.

“I am a member of the Environment Committee and I did raise it at the last meeting, and I asked for further information to be brought back to the the relevant committee, which I do believe is the correct thing.

“But I also think it’s important that we note that the question of whether any councillor would interrupt the work of council workers on a day-to-day basis, no matter what the circumstances, would need to be explored further.

“I would ask that that is done, as well as my request that further information is brought back to committee, as I requested at the last Environment Meeting.

“There is a lot more to explore in this. I think it is a very serious matter. There are a number of issues within this debacle that do need further investigation.”

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Councillor Clement Cuthbertson (DUP, Dungannon DEA), however, insisted that the matter had been dealt with appropriately at the last Environment Committee meeting: “As chair of the Environment Committee, this was raised at the last Environment Committee. It got debated.

“But I’m on record since day one in relation to dual-language signage. It’s a waste of staff time, effort and money of this council, and we need to keep that in mind as we’re coming up to February 12 in relation to the rates.

“We’re squandering money left, right and centre on dual-language signage.”

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