Shock at Derry gay sauna

A Protestant clergyman last night hit out at the opening of a sauna for gay and bisexual men in Derry city centre.

The doors of the Cage opened for the first time at a premises in the John Street area on Friday evening.

Local Free Presbyterian minister Ian Brown claimed the facility was not in keeping with UK City of Culture status.

The sauna is run by 37-year-old businessman Barry McGonigle, who moved from Belfast to Derry at Christmas to open the venture.

He says he was inspired by Derry’s successful City of Culture bid last year when he applied for permission to convert a retail unit into a sauna and cafe.

“I was looking for a site and Derry was the next biggest city outside Belfast so it was an obvious choice,” he said. “I had been to Derry for Hallowe’en and been here for the weekend several times. When I was applying it was around the time of the City of Culture bid and with that being won it seemed like a good place to be.”

Mr McGonigle says he encountered no opposition to his plans.

“We are not doing anything wrong at the end of the day,” he said.

“If there is opposition to us we will state our case.

“I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but people in general have moved on and it is more of a live and let live society these days.”

However, Rev Ian Brown claimed the new venture should be totally opposed on religious and moral grounds.

“The City of Culture is one thing, but we do not want premises of this nature,” he said.

“I am against the promotion of anything to do with homosexuality because it is a deathstyle and anything that encourages it should be utterly opposed.”

According to the owner, there were 22 visitors to the sauna over the weekend, including people from Strabane, Lifford, Ballycastle as well as Derry.

The sauna’s website lists the services available as: sauna, steam room, cinema, sling room, dark room, private cubicles, smoking terrace and cafe. It is open seven days a week, until 11pm during the week and until 5am at weekends.

David McCartney of the Rainbow Project in Derry, which seeks to offer support and advice to gay and bisexual men, said: “Our perspective is that if places like this do exist then it is an opportunity for us to carry out our work in health promotion.

“We can’t afford to ignore places like this because they are going to open up.

“We would see it as an opportunity to reach a section of the population we wouldn’t normally have the chance to reach.

“That is people who possibly haven’t come out or who do not currently make use of the services that we provide in handing out information on healthy sexual practices. From that point of view we would welcome it and look to work with them.”