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.