Naming rights on our streets and estates

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:01

Fine Gael’s local election proposal to allow a simple majority of residents change the name of their street or housing estate might be politely described as a populist wheeze. The party’s election manifesto declared that the naming of estates and roads had become an issue for homeowners in recent years. So, Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan will introduce regulations to facilitate the changing of placenames.

It sounds straightforward. But the devil, as always, will be in the detail. The idea that a simple majority of residents will be allowed the change the name of say, Ascal Ballygobackwards to Ballygoforwards Manor could cause traditionalists to choke on their porridge. A reversal of the naming process would be equally contentious with muesli eaters. Think of the difficulties it would cause for postmen, not to mention cartographers, lost visitors and canvassing councillors?

Remember the furore caused in County Kerry when gaeltacht roadsigns identified “Dingle” as “Daingean”? It took intense pressure from tourist interests and years of squabbling before the council finally compromised with a sign that now reads: “ Dingle/Daingean Uí Cúis”. Don’t even mention Muine Beag in Co Carlow where, decades on from its apotheosis, it is known locally as Bagnalstown and officially as Muine Beag.

Most councils have “naming committees”. Elected representatives, advised by officials, are expected to ensure that street names and new estates reflect local and Irish place names. But new developments with their “manors”, “deerparks”, “hazelwoods”, “gallops” and “retreats” spread like a rash during the building boom. Fine Gael’s proposal will have enthusiastic supporters. But the renaming qualification bar been set too low. Change of any kind is a recipe for argument and placenames generate a special emotional charge. Requiring a majority of 70 to 80 per cent of residents to favour a new identity would minimise the prospect of local strife.