Elderly homeowner could face "heavy fines" for posting the Irish language sign on her fence

An elderly woman in Northern Ireland is facing prosecution for posting an Irish language road sign outside of her Ashdale estate home in the primarily nationalist area of Randalstown, Co Antrim.

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The hand-painted “Gleann na Fuinseoige" sign (meaning 'Ashdale,' in Irish) was reported by a member of the public to the Antrim and Newtownabbey Planning Office who have since ordered the unnamed homeowner to take it down.

On Twitter, An Dream Dearg, who describes itself as “open network of Irish language activists from all corners and backgrounds,” shared a picture of the letter dated June 12 that the homeowner received from the Antrim and Newtownabbey Planning Office:

Seo mar atá rudaí faoi láthair

Outrageous. This from the same council that last year tried to ban bilingual signs. They ploughed ahead despite being told repeatedly that their ‘policy’ was illegal & only pulled back on the day of JR hearing in Court

NOW THIS?  pic.twitter.com/xFjIEGiPjW

— An Dream Dearg ️隸‍♀️隸‍♂️ (@dreamdearg) June 16, 2019

The letter addresses an “alleged unauthorized sign” and says that since the homeowner did not get the “consent as required under the Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2015” it must be taken down within one week.

The letter adds that the person who posted the Irish language sign can face a fine of £2,500 ($3,155) with an additional £250 ($315) for each day the sign remains posted.

Read More: This Seachtain na Gaeilge, the Irish language is free at last and it’s going global

While the name of the homeowner, understood to be an 85-year-old woman, has not been released, the homeowner’s granddaughter Medb Ní Dhúláin told the Irish News that the planning council’s response “was an outrageous response and abuse of power.”

“The council has done little to nothing to protect and support the language, as they are obliged to under various treaties, and instead focus their energies on targeting those that erect small Irish signs on their own property.”

Ní Dhúláin added: “The council stated that it was in breach of their advertising policy. I am, however, aware that this sign falls outside of the remit of that same advertising policy due to both dimensions and location of the sign. I have now sought legal advice."

“I do hope, however, that this incident will spark a broader conversation about the regressive approach this council takes with relation to the Irish language. The blatant hostility must end.”

On May 11, about a month before the letter was issued by the Northern Irish planning office, Ní Dhúláin shared the below post on her Twitter:

D'éirigh mé dubh dóite de bheith ag fanacht ar an chomhairle buirge. Ag cumadh ceannairce. Sedition Saturdays. #AchtGaeilgepic.twitter.com/CFnpHWdcxC

— Medb Ní Dhúláin (@medbnidhulain) May 11, 2019

Ní Dhúláin's post translates to: "I got heartily sick of waiting on the council. Plotting rebellion."

On June 19, Ní Dhúláin publicly shared on Facebook a post that quoted her as saying her "stance is not political or linked to any other controversies:"

"Ms Ní Dhúláin last night stressed that her stance is not political or linked to any other controversies."

Publiée par Medb Ní Dhúláin sur Mardi 18 juin 2019

Read More: Is the Irish language dead or alive?

In a statement, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council said: "The letter referred to was sent by the council’s planning enforcement team following receipt of a complaint from a member of the public.”

"The erection of the sign constitutes a breach of planning control and in line with normal procedures the council issued a warning letter to the householder to have the sign removed.”

"The display of signage is governed by the Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations (NI) 2015 and it is an offence, liable to prosecution, for signage to be displayed without the requisite consent in place.”

"The council receives a large number of complaints regarding alleged unauthorised signage in the Borough and in the last 12 months has issued warning letters in approximately 80 cases.”

"It should be noted that the advertisement regulations make provision for the council to erect street signs, but does not permit residents to erect their own street signs."

DUP MLA Trevor Clarke sided with the Council, saying: “Like any other illegal sign, it has to come down. It has to fit in with the council’s policies.

“Regardless of whatever language it is in, if it is an illegal sign it should be removed.

“If this was a business that put up a temporary sign that went against council policy it would have to be taken down, so this sign should be removed.”

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Ongoing Irish language battle

The matter of Irish language has been an ongoing point of contention in Northern Ireland, and the introduction of an official Irish Language Act (Acht Na Gailege) is considered one of the main reasons why the region's power-sharing government collapsed in January 2017.

In September 2018, the Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council was forced to rescind its “ban” on Irish language street signs after local resident Clare Duffy challenged the policy, asserting that the move “discriminated on grounds of religion, political opinion, and cultural identity.”

Speaking after the decision, Clare Duffy said: "Today's victory in the High Court highlights the lack of respect shown towards Irish identity and further focuses the need for the Acht na Gaeilge (Irish language act) to guarantee legal protections for the language.”

Do you think the Irish language sign should be removed? Let us know in the comments