No ownership change for historic walls without ‘cross community support’, says Irish Society

The building of Derry's Walls was completed 400 years ago.
The building of Derry's Walls was completed 400 years ago.
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Ownership of the historic walls around Londonderry won’t change without “cross community support”, the Honourable Irish Society has said.

There had been calls from Sinn Fein for ownership of the monument to transfer to Derry City and Strabane District Council.

Foyle MP Elisha McCallion told the Derry Journal newspaper last week that she had been “meeting regularly with The Honourable the Irish Society in London to discuss the possibility of transferring ownership and guardianship of the Walls to a body in the city.”

A series of projects are ongoing in Londonderry this year to celebrate the 400th anniversary of their construction, in 1619.

The Honourable 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 describes itself as “a cross-community grant making charity”, transfered “guardianship” of the walls to the Northern Ireland government in the 1950s.

The Irish Society say changes to the arrangements set up in the 1950s can only be made with both their consent and the consent of the Department for Communinties at Stormont.

Elisha McCallion said her meetings with the Honourable Irish Society were a “first step” in the process of transfering ownership of the walls to “a body in the city”.

Speaking to the Derry Journal, she said: “We agreed that Derry City and Strabane District Council could be ideally placed for such a role.

“This is a first step in the process. It was agreed that The Honourable the Irish Society will go and look at ways at how this can be achieved at their end and I will engage with the bodies that are currently involved with the Walls to take this forward.”

In a statement to the News Letter, the Honourable Irish Society secretary Edward Montgomery said: “The Irish Society put the Walls of Londonderry into formal Northern Ireland government guardianship in 1955, and this means that the Department for Communities’ (DfC) Historic Environment Division is presently responsible overall for all aspects of management and conservation of the Walls, which it carries out in close co-operation with Derry City and Strabane District Council and other stakeholder agencies.

“The Irish Society is actively represented on the Walls management committees and always seeks to play a supportive role in developing the tourist potential of the Walls to the fullest extent.

“For example, it is currently funding a ‘Walls 400’ animation and activity programme along with the local Council and DfC HED to celebrate the 400 th anniversary of the completion of the structure.”

Mr Montgomery continued: “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.”