Antrim & Newtownabbey Council U-Turn on ‘English Only’ Signage Policy after legal challenge from Irish language residents in High-Court Today

‘This is another concrete example of the need for clear legislation to direct and inform councils on signage and Irish-language policies’ - CnaG


Antrim & Newtownabbey Council has performed a dramatic U-turn on their ‘English Only’ street-naming policy, which was controversially introduced 26 February 2018, it has been announced at the High-Court today. The policy, which was brought forward by Council following a request by local residents for dual Irish and English language street signs in their local street, prohibited any language other than English to be displayed on official council street-signage, in clear contravention of international and domestic legislation and guidance, namely the European Charter for Regional and Minority languages, ratified by the British Government in 2001, and the Good Friday Agreement. The previous ban on Irish-language dual signage was rescinded in 1995 and councils were instructed to take on board the views of residents.


At a Judicial Review hearing, taken by a local resident, the council has rescinded their policy and agreed to pay the full costs of the applicant in respect of having taken this challenge.


Dr Niall Comer, President, Conradh na Gaeilge, says:


“Huge credit must go to the Irish-speaking community in the Antrim and Newtownabbey Council for the fantastic campaign that has ultimately overturned this policy. Conradh na Gaeilge have consistently called for a uniformed approach to street-signage based on a local plebiscite whereby a simple majority of respondents in any given street can trigger the erection of bilingual signage. This case, like many others, highlights the need for clear legislation to direct and inform councils on signage and Irish-language policies. Any incoming Irish language Act must include clear instruction and provision regarding signage, as is considered a central part of language legislation around the world. Let’s not forget also that bilingual signage as proposed by Conradh na Gaeilge would include the corresponding English placenames as you would see in Wales, Scotland, Canada, and many other countries throughout the world. ””


Gráinne Ní Ghilín, local resident involved with the campaign, says:


“Following a complaint by local residents, including myself, upon seeing the implications of this policy, the Chief-Executive of the Council recently directly responded claiming that the policy in question was both “lawful and proportionate”. It seems, several weeks later as the case reaches its legal conclusion that this is no longer the case. Whilst we welcome the wise decision to revoke this policy, concerns remain that the views and wishes of Irish-speaking rate payers in this council were and may again be ignored when the new policy is being formulated. The Chief-Executive also stated in the same response that the Council took seriously their commitments regarding the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. We would ask the council to comply, therefore, with the very clear guidance provided by the Council of Europe in relation to minority language signage.”


Niall Murphy, from KRW Law said:


“The application taken by our client has vindicated her deeply held concern that the policy adopted by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council was unlawful.  In the proceedings which we lodged, we alleged that the Council had breached the Local Government Order 1995 and were further in breach of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrew’s Agreement. We submitted that the Council had acted in a discriminatory manner on the grounds of religion, political opinion and cultural identity, as the decision disproportionately impacted members of the Catholic, Nationalist or Republican community, and that the Council had failed in its duty to pay due regard to equality in formulating this policy.”


“We further argued that the Council had in a manner likely to breach the UK’s sovereign obligations under article 14 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.  We further alleged that there was no proper consultation and further that the policy was ill informed by insufficient reasons and intelligent consideration. Our client expresses regrets that ratepayers money has been wasted on having to pay for the entirety of the costs of this High Court challenge at a time when rates in the Borough have been recently increased by 3%.”




The Conradh na Gaeilge complaint sent to Antrim and Newtownabbey Council challenging this policy on 20 March 2018 can be accessed here:


The CAJ complaint sent to Antrim and Newtownabbey Council challenging this policy on 14 March 2018 can be accessed here:  


The Antrim and Newtownabbey Council response, dated 4 June 2018, to a complaint sent by a local resident challenging this policy can be accessed here:




Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh

Communications Executive, Conradh na Gaeilge

00 44 28 90 315647 | 00 44 77 16690237 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin

Advocacy Manager, Conradh na Gaeilge

00 44 28 90 315647 | 00 44 7545293841| This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




Conradh na Gaeilge is the democratic forum for the Irish-speaking community. The Conradh has over 200 branches and numerous individual members registered around the world, members that work hard to promote the use of Irish in their own areas. Conradh na Gaeilge’s main aim is to promote the use of Irish as the standard language in Ireland. Conradh na Gaeilge was established by Douglas Hyde, Eoin Mac Néill, and their colleagues on the 31st of July 1893. The organisation runs Irish-language courses; advocates for the language rights of Irish-speakers; raises awareness about the language; hosts the international Irish-language festival Seachtain na Gaeilge; manages the Irish-language information hub and the Irish-language bookshop An Siopa Leabhar; supports Raidió Rí-Rá; and much more. More

Associated Organisations of Conradh na Gaeilge