A gay and bisexual sauna which has been operating in John Street since February has been given full planning approval by the DoE.
The Cage, which houses a sauna, steam room, cinema, sling room, dark rooms, private cubicles and cafe, has been at the centre of a storm of protest from several Protestant ministers since Belfast man Barry McGonigle proposed it for Derry last year. It has been operating since the start of the year without planning permission, which was approved this week.
Despite the green light local Baptist Minister Mark Bradfield, from the Bethel Baptist Church in Campsie, has vowed to protest on to make sure The Cage shuts its doors.
“The mind boggles as to why it has been approved,” said Minister Bradfield.
“Are there people in the DoE and council so sympathetic to this type of behaviour that they would let it go ahead despite objections?”
The owner of The Cage, Belfast man Barry McGonigle, said he was delighted that Doe have approved planning permission and hoped that the success his business has enjoyed these past few months would continue.
And he rejected criticism of the business.
“It is a gay sauna. If any sexual encounters happen within the rooms it is between two consenting adults. It is simply a place for gay and bisexual men to meet and socialise.”
Mr McGonigle explained that when a visitor comes to the Cage they pay their fee, usually £10 at weekends, and are given a towel to change into.
They can have a sauna, visit the steam room or have a shower and are then free to visit a communal lounge where other men congregate. From here they have the choice of visiting ‘the sling room’, the dark rooms and the private cubicles.
But Mr McGonigle says the message of safe and protected sex is the top priority for staff and customers.
He continued: “There is literature available and also advice on PEPs which protect against HIV.
You are more likely to catch HIV anywhere else than here.
Mr McGonigle said he respected that everyone had a right to their opinion, so long as it did not interfere with his business.
Derry City Council will discuss the planning permission further during this morning’s planning meeting.