A DUP MLA has warned the Derry Walls could become a “political football” if ownership is transferred to the local council.
Foyle MLA Gary Middleton was speaking as the Honourable Irish Society said they would not agree to transfer ownership to Derry City and Strabane District Council unless it was satisfied there is “cross-community support” for such a move.
Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion had recently called for ownership of the historic walls around Londonderry to transfer to the local council.
She told the Derry Journal newspaper last week she had been “meeting regularly with the Honourable Irish Society in London to discuss the possibility of transferring ownership and guardianship of the walls to a body in the city”.
She added: “We agreed that Derry City and Strabane District Council could be ideally placed for such a role.”
In a statement to the News Letter this week, the Honourable Irish Society said it would not agree to any transfer unless it was “satisfied that such a move had full local and regional cross-party political support”.
The Irish Society was a consortium of livery companies of the City of London set up in 1613 to undertake the Ulster Plantation in Londonderry. It is the historic link between the livery companies of London and Derry which gave the city its name of Londonderry.
The organisation, which now operates as a “a cross-community grant-making charity”, transferred “guardianship” of the walls to the Northern Ireland government in the 1950s.
Mr Middleton said he would be reluctant to see the 400-year link between the Honourable Irish Society and the famous city walls broken.
“All of the history needs to be preserved,” he said. “The Honourable Irish have, obviously, a very strong connection with this city and with the walls over the past 400 years. They have a large footprint here in terms of projects and investments in more recent years.
“For a lot of people, that connection between London and Londonderry is very important and we would like to see that preserved. In fact, we would like to see that strengthened.”
He added: “Handing the walls over to the council could turn them into a political football. For example, there are a number of events which take place on the walls, such as parades and other events. We would be concerned about the policy the council might have in respect of those.
“Would the council be able to decide who could use the walls and who couldn’t?”
Edward Montgomery, secretary at the Irish Society, said the Department for Communities’ Historic Environment Division is responsible for management and conservation of the walls.
He added: “The only way in law by which the 1955 management arrangement can be altered is by mutual agreement of the department and the Irish Society. The Irish Society, which is a cross-community grant-making charity operating in the North West of Northern Ireland, would only approach the department in the circumstances whereby it was satisfied that such a move had full local and regional cross-party political support.”