Relations turned sour inside the chamber of Limavady Borough Council on Tuesday after it was claimed Dungiven is “perceived as a cold place for the unionist community”.
Bitter divisions arose during debate about a multi-million pound Council project to deliver community sports facilities for the wider Dungiven area.
A majority vote by the nationalist bloc saw the project move forward with a preferred option costing £7 million to develop facilities at Ballyquin Road and Curragh Road - the latter is where Kevin Lynch Hurling Club is located.
However, some unionist members claimed Protestants weren’t going into Dungiven, that they wouldn’t go down the Curragh Road and the project was for “one side”.
Sinn Fein’s Anne Brolly hit back, accusing “certain people” of “trying to stir up deep and bitter sectarianism”.
“I don’t see the sectarianism that’s being talked about in this council. I haven’t seen it in Dungiven,” said Colr. Brolly. She said facilities such as the new library in Dungiven welcomed people of all and no religions.
DUP Colr. George Robinson said he would never ever deny anyone sporting facilities, but he’d like to think the Protestant community could avail of them. He said Dungiven was “perceived to be a cold place for the unionist community”, and referred to items for Dungiven Hunger Striker Kevin Lynch in the town.
Colr. Robinson said in a recession Council must “lead by example”, “and to spend in the region of £7 million at the present time is not conducive to what’s happening out there,” he said.
Colr. Robinson added: “I’m not trying to be bigoted or deny the people of Dungiven of their rights, but we should think very carefully of our domestic/business people who have to live under harsh economic times.”
TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas said Dungiven hadn’t been a shared space for Protestant people in the past. He said there were two churches in the town that Protestant people go to “and that’s it”.
“Let’s not fool ourselves,” he said, adding there was hardly a street left in Dungiven which didn’t have a name in Irish, or a pole at the top of the town that didn’t have something with Kevin Lynch on it.
“Unionists won’t go into Dungiven. The Protestants are not going into Dungiven, whether you like it not,” said. Colr. Douglas. “They are not going down the Curragh Road.”
Colr. Douglas went on to say he wasn’t against money being spent in Dungiven for the wider community, and if that happened “all well and good”.
However, he said he had major concerns, and said the project seemed to be aimed at GAA sports and only for the nationalist community, and that the unionist community was being excluded.
Colr Brolly said Sinn Fein had never objected to anything for areas such as the Burnfoot, or indeed anywhere where the need is great.
“There has been under investment in Dungiven for years,” said Colr. Brolly. “Now we are getting our entitlement we like to be inclusive...£7 million is not a lot of money to invest in the people we represent.”
Sinn Fein’s Brenda Chivers said the project was fulfilling Council’s obligation to provide sporting facilities in the borough and said the “bad press” needed to end and councillors should be encouraging communities to work together.
SDLP Colr. Michael Coyle said investment in facilities was needed in the area and this was an opportunity for people to avail of them; regardless of religion.
Colr. Coyle also stressed people in Dungiven are happy to welcome their Protestant neighbours.
UU Colr. Edwin Stevenson if there was some sort of gesture for the people of Burnfoot but, as it stood, the preferred option was “for one side”.
SDLP Colr. Gerry Mullan said he was saddened at the debate and “the tit-for-tat arguments not for the benefit of either community”.
Colr. Coyle proposed Council select the Ballyquin Road/ Curragh Road option, which was seconded by Colr. Brolly. The nine SDLP and Sinn Fein members voted in favour, while the six DUP, UUP and TUV councillors voted against.