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Sinn Fein councillor blasted working group and walked out of meeting on dual language street sign policy

Craigavon Civic Centre Council Chamber

A Sinn Fein councillor has claimed a working group established by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to aid in the development of a dual language street sign policy, “played no part” in the policy’s adoption.

Sinn Fein’s group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle made the claim after a Freedom of Information request revealed his party only attended one of the three working group meetings focused on the policy.

Councillor Mackle also revealed he and his party colleague Councillor Darren McNally “walked out” of the meeting they did attend.

The Lurgan representative also claimed it was an application for a judicial review, brought forward by a residents’ group and his party’s efforts to keep the matter on the agenda, rather than the working group’s efforts, that led to the delivery of the policy.

The working group met three times, each behind closed doors, on October 17, 2019, October 29, 2019 and February 17, 2020.

Following the adoption of the policy on September 28, Sinn Fein councillor Bróna Haughey praised her party colleague’s efforts in getting the policy introduced.

“Well done and comhghairdeas to the Sinn Fein team for working on this tirelessly over the last number of years,” said Councillor Haughey.

When asked to explain these comments in light of Sinn Fein’s attendance record at the working group, Councillor Mackle was frank in his assessment of the situation.

“Councillor McNally and I attended the first meeting and walked out because the working group was the last of a series of attempts by unionist councillors to avoid the council fulfilling its legal responsibility,” said Councillor Mackle.

“We warned the working group that the council was wide open for a legal challenge by its failure to adopt the policy and we felt the our attendance would give it a legitimacy and perhaps leave us open to legal challenge and possible surcharge.

“This proved to be the case when the application for judicial review (JR) was lodged by a residents’ group.

“The working group played no part in getting the policy adopted but the pressure from the JR application, our party’s efforts to keep the matter on the agenda since 2018 and the legal requirement to have a dual language policy are what led to the council vote, in favour, on September28.”

A spokesperson for Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough explained how the policy was put together.

“By way of clarity, the council’s current street naming and numbering policy was amended in 2020 to include the provision of guidelines on how Council will deal with applications for dual language requests,” said the spokesperson.

“This amended policy evolved over a number of committee and council meetings and the working groups were a part of the overall development of the policy.

“The working groups did not in themselves establish council’s policy on dual language street signs.”

The list of those who attended the first meeting is as follows: Alderman Sydney Anderson, Alderman Gareth Wilson; Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon; Councillor Peter Lavery; Councillor Paul Berry; Councillor Sam Nicholson; Councillor Jill Macauley; Councillor Darren McNally and Councillor Liam Mackle.

The second meeting of the working group was attended by just four councillors – Alderman Sydney Anderson, Alderman Gareth Wilson, Councillor Peter Lavery and Councillor Sam Nicholson.

The third and final meeting of the working group, held just weeks before lockdown on February 17 this year, was attended by: Alderman Sydney Anderson; Alderman Gareth Wilson; Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon; Councillor Peter Lavery; Councillor Sam Nicholson; Councillor Joe Nelson and Councillor Jill Macauley.

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