Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State for coming in today. He understands this situation well. I will set out some background to this issue for those who may not be familiar with it. Back in the 1990s, official road signs began popping up around Enniscrone and many other towns and villages throughout the country directing people to "Inishcrone".Since then difficulties are being posed for tourists and visitors who want to visit Enniscrone but are confused by a different spelling. When I was growing up, Enniscrone was our local seaside area and we never knew it as anything else. Local people have articulated these concerns over several years, rightly believing that visitors intending to come to Enniscrone have difficulty finding the place and because it is confusing end up in an entirely different place. There has been a welcome increase in visitor numbers due to the development of the Wild Atlantic Way but, unfortunately, many businesses have said these visitors are simply getting lost. This is due to the fact that they cannot locate the town because they are looking for Enniscrone and the sign says "Inishcrone". The problem is exacerbated by satnavs or Google Maps, which we all use in our vehicles, because many recognise only Inishcrone as opposed to Enniscrone. The local economy is losing out.
These mounting concerns have led a strong community campaign, which has been lobbying for one placename spelling to be used consistently across the board. Thankfully, this issue will be resolved through the use of a plebiscite, where local people will have their say on a preferred placename, to be carried out by Sligo County Council. As part of the local campaign, I have made numerous representations to the Minister of State. This included facilitating a meeting at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment between the chief stakeholders and the Minister. The Minister of State has been engaged on this important issue. Certain legal work has to be completed in order that the plebiscite can be held. I understand that legal provisions require updated regulations for the holding of plebiscites to change placenames.
I attended a public meeting well over a year ago. There must have been 500 or 600 people there and the vast majority want this addressed as soon as possible. I look forward to hearing the Minister of State's reply.
I thank the Senator for raising this important matter. The name by which people know their own locality or by which others recognise it is pretty fundamental. As well as being a beautiful place, Enniscrone is a popular destination. It has been for years but, as the Senator pointed out, it has benefited in recent years from the Wild Atlantic Way and golf tourism in particular.
The changing of placenames should be possible at local level through a democratic process. I fundamentally believe in the right of the residents of any area to be involved in resolving issues such as this. This is also consistent with the spirit of a associated placename provisions in enactments given effect over the years by the Houses of the Oireachtas. Placenames are a core part of people's identity and people hold strong views concerning the proper representation of a local placename. A placename may also be a means by which, as the Senator pointed out, a town, village, or area is more widely recognised and markets itself to visitors. It is, therefore, appropriate that there should be a mechanism or process that allows local people to express their views on such a matter.
Sligo County Council has contacted officials in the Department and expressed an interest in holding a plebiscite to determine the official placename that should be assigned to the town of Enniscrone. As the Senator will be aware, I met a delegation of concerned residents from the area a few months ago. Following the enactment of the Local Government Act 2019, provisions under Part 18 of the amended Local Government Act 2001 relating to the change of names of areas were finally commenced. The commencement of these provisions allows for new regulations to be given effect for the holding of local plebiscites for the purpose of changing placenames. My Department has prepared draft regulations for this purpose. However, during the drafting process, a further complication and legal concern was identified regarding the interaction of this Part and provisions relating to placenames under Part 5 of the Official Languages Act 2003, which is under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan.I have now received legal advice on the matter that it would not be possible under Part 18 of the Local Government Act 2001 to change a placename in a non-Gaeltacht area that is the subject of a placenames order under Part 5 of the Official Languages Act 2003. The Department's legal unit has contacted its counterpart in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to invite its observations on the matter. I have also spoken to the Minister, Deputy Madigan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, about it. It is intended that both Departments jointly will seek the further advice of the Office of the Attorney General. If there is an unintended conflict between the two separate statutory frameworks, it may be necessary to resolve the matter by additional amendments to the relevant provisions before giving effect to the regulations for the holding of local plebiscites. I know this is a further complication and delay but it is better to ensure that the process we undertake in the form of a plebiscite would be legally supported. Now that there is some further clarity on the complex legal issues involved, contact has been made between in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and those in the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as I have said. The aim is to try to seek agreement in principle as to how to proceed so that the matter can be resolved. In this regard, I understand that a potential piece of legislation is on the schedule and that there is an Official Languages (Amendment) Act that on the parliamentary schedule. The Department's policy objective is that it should be possible for a plebiscite to be held in any area to change a placename. The same mechanism for doing so should apply everywhere in Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht areas. Resolving this matter will allow the Department to make necessary regulations to allow the people of Enniscrone to have a say in the naming of their locality.
Senator Feighan is right to point out that there are other examples around the country where the provision of new signposting maybe 20 years ago resulted in names being used that were not the names that people locally recognised or at least not spelled in the manner the people locally would recognise.
I will conclude by welcoming the Senator's long-standing interest in the matter. I will certainly keep him informed and updated with regard to any changes that may need to be made in the law by means of the amending legislation coming before the Oireachtas soon.
This has gone on quite a long time. It sounds as if there is a turf war between two Departments. I would like to see this resolved as quickly as possible. The Minister of State is talking about legal matters and clarifying various issues. I urge that they are clarified as quickly as possible. The Minister of State rightly said that the legislation is there to be brought before the Dáil. I hope this could be done before the Christmas period and we could get this issue resolved once and for all. Somebody on Facebook asked why we were talking about placenames and said it is not a problem. As the Minister of State articulated, because everyone uses Google maps and satnav, it has become very important. I know of some fellows who went to the ploughing championships last year - I think they were Deputies - and they put in the wrong name and ended up 50 miles away. I will not say we are getting lazy but we are not following the signposts any more, we are just following our Google maps and satnav. It is more important now than ever that this is resolved. I thank the Minister of State for the attention he has given this matter so far. We need to get these two Departments together to deal with the situation once and for all.
I would like to reassure the Senator that there are no turf wars at this stage. This time last year, just before the session ended, the Local Government Act went through this House and we hoped that would allow for the regulations to be drawn up. It turned out the amendment that was included in that Act only applied to the possibility of holding plebiscites in Gaeltacht areas. That was an oversight at the time. We do not want a situation where we hold a plebiscite and it is challenged and it is found there is no legal basis for it to be held. We firmly believe that local people should be able to have their voices heard on important matters like placenames.The Senator is correct. I find myself guilty of this as well. We have become lazy. I do not know who the Deputies were who could not find their way to Carlow. I reassure the House that I know my way to Carlow. They ended up 60 miles away. That is not much of a statement about their sense of direction.