Tensions ran high at a public meeting in Dungiven on Thursday to discuss the sale of the local parish hall.
St Canice Hall is to be sold to the Irish cultural, arts and heritage group, Glór Dhún Geimhin. It is a move some parishioners say was made without proper consultation.
John O’Kane, who organised the meeting along with James McMacken, said the issue wasn’t about who the hall had been sold to, but the way in which the disposal had taken place.
“The hall has been here a lifetime,” said Mr. O’Kane, who claimed the decision to sell was “bad judgement”, and one which had left people feeling “disenfranchised”.
A number of people at the meeting expressed concern they had not been made aware there were financial concerns surrounding the hall and, had they been made aware, they would have had the opportunity to help, such as seeking grants.
There was also concerns about the decision to sell having been made by a small number of people, and also about whether existing users of the hall would still be able to use it once the sale is complete.
Fr Aidan Mullan answered questions from parishioners during the two-hour long meeting. He stressed the decision was “not malicious”, that “there was nothing to hide”, however, he admitted he should have asked parishioners.
“I apologise for that,” said Fr Mullan.
Fr Mullan also said he had not thought of seeking grants, but said no-one ever came and asked him about regenerating the hall, which he said was costing the parish approximately £2,000 per year. He said until Glór Dhún Geimhin made the approach about the hall, the hall “would have been here forever and a day”. He said looking at other halls in the parish which are self sustaining, “a thriving hall should be able to pay its way. This hall is not self sustaining.”
Fr Mullan said he thought, “in my innocence”, that with Glór Dhún Geimhin taking over the hall it would be news to be welcomed.
“I honestly never thought it would be a bad thing,” said Fr Mullan. “I thought people would say ‘this is a brilliant thing to do’.”
One woman at the meeting said she had used the hall as a young girl with the Briginis, and it hadn’t changed much since then. She said to have a group regenerate the hall was a great idea, but also understood the need for clarity around such decisions where it was required.
One man said the parish as a whole must take some responsibility for the situation, and admitted if he had been in Fr. Mullan’s situation when Glor made the approach he would have done the same, adding: “I think there is a good future here.”
A representative of Glór Dhún Geimhin said the hall would continue to be a community hall, and there could be a written agreement made so current service users could continue to use the hall.
Sinn Fein Colr. Sean McGlinchey said it was important to recognise Fr Mullan had admitted “he got it wrong”, but said the parish must move forward and work together.
One of the last comments from the evening was from a man who said “it’s good to see Irish culture progress” because for years that hadn’t been allowed. The man also said for years he had gone past the hall, which looked like “an old deserted building”.
“Progress and good luck,” said the man.
Organisers said they wanted to register in writing their dissatisfaction with the diocese.