Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has defended its decision to warn a local householder that they could face a fine of up to £2,500 if they fail to remove an “unauthorised” Irish language street sign erected on their property.
The local authority recently wrote to the occupier of the house in the Ashdale area of Randalstown warning them that the ‘Gleann na Fuinseoige’ sign was erected on the fence of the property without the appropriate consent and should be removed within one week from the date of the letter (June 12).
It is understood the sign was erected by the homeowner's granddaughter.
The council’s position has been criticised by Irish language pressure group An Dream Dearg and local Sinn Fein councillor Henry Cushinan, who branded it “threatening”. But DUP MLA Trevor Clarke insists the council has to enforce its policy on unauthorised signage.
The letter sent to the householder states: “The display of an unauthorised advertisement is an offence and on summary conviction can result in a heavy fine of a maximum of £2,500 with further daily fines of £250 for each day on which the advertisement continues to be displayed.”
Backing the council's position, DUP MLA Trevor Clarke said: “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.”
Branding the council's actions "outrageous", An Dream Dearg tweeted: "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?"
Stressing that he and his Sinn Fein colleagues will be requesting an urgent meeting with senior council officials, Cllr Cushinan said the local authority should “take immediate steps to implement a signage policy that respects the rights of the Irish language community and identity.”
Defending its stance, the council said the letter was sent following a complaint from a member of the public.
“The display of signage is governed by the Planning Regulations (NI) 2015 and it is an offence, liable to prosecution, for signage to be displayed without the requisite consent in place,” a spokesperson said.
“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.”
The council stressed that residents are not permitted to erect their own street signs.