Unionists on Causeway Coast and Glens Council have voted to rename the award-winning Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre in Limavady more than five years after it opened, and at a cost of at least £12,000.
Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre was officially opened in October 2010 by BBC broadcaster, Mark Carruthers, and the mayor of Limavady at the time, SDLP councillor Michael Carten.
It’s understood branding for the Centre, at the time, cost in the region of £15,000.
The facility was also named bi-lingually, Ionad Ealaíon agus Cultúir Ghleann na Ró.
The decision to rename the facility The Alexander Memorial Arts Centre was taken at a Leisure & Development committee meeting on Tuesday. It followed a late night debate on a motion from Ulster Unionist councillor Aaron Callan. He told members the original town hall in Limavady was named after Mr S.M. Alexander, a figure everyone in Limavady should be proud of, and it was known as The Alexander Memorial Hall.
Colr. Callan said Mr Alexander built a school and a factory in the town, and he was a positive figure who had huge significance for the history and heritage of the local area.
It is taking a step backwards.SDLP Colr. Gerry Mullan
“Here was a guy who was an entrepreneur who spent a large amount of his time and money into improving his local area,” said Colr. Callan, adding the name Alexander had been in official use for well over 100 years.
“This is a positive person who everyone in the community can get behind,” said Colr. Callan.
However, SDLP councillor Gerry Mullan said to rename the facility now, more than five years after it opened, would be detrimental to the Centre’s reputation and an established brand.
Colr. Mullan referred to the success of the Centre, including hosting the famous Broighter Gold exhibition in 2013. He said the Roe Valley Arts & Cultural centre received local, regional and national press. Renaming it now would be damaging, not to mention the financial costs involved, said Colr. Mullan.
Colr. Mullan pointed out when the former Limavady Borough Council was choosing a name for the facility it was an Ulster Unionist colleague of Colr. Callan who proposed Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre.
Colr. Mullan said Roe Valley Arts & Cultural Centre was a neutral name, all-inclusive and inoffensive. The proposed new name would cause confusion, and prove challenging for those involved in running and promoting the facility.
“It is taking a step backwards,” said Colr. Mullan.
Councillors were told by Corporate Director, Richard Baker, to change the signage alone would cost £12,000. He said various consultations would also be required.
UUP Colr. Darryl Wilson said he couldn’t grasp how the name Alexander was offensive, or could be seen as not being neutral.
Colr. Mullan responded explaining Mr Alexander was a huge landowner and his name was associated with the unionist community and it did not sit well with a lot of nationalists in the Limavady area.
Colr. Mullan said renaming the centre after Mr Alexander would destroy its reputation as an open and friendly venue for everyone.
DUP Colr. Ian Stevenson said he had no objection to changing the name, while DUP Colr. James McCorkell said he had conducted his own poll among “my voters” and the vast majority wanted the name changed.
“I can’t ignore that. That’s a fact,” said Colr. McCorkell, adding if it wasn’t for people like Alexander there would be no town hall to speak of in the first place.
Sinn Fein Colr. Dermot Nicholl questioned why a name change now, “why wasn’t this done during Limavady Borough Council?”
Colr. Nicholl said it would be setting a precedent, not to mention the cost implications involved.
“I’m not taking away from what Alexander did, but there are others too. Where does it end?” said Colr. Nicholl. “People are interested in Council delivering other things. The time, the cost, the expenditure; it beggars belief.”
Sinn Fein councillor Kieran Mulholland said there was no need to change the name and branded it “plain silly”, and said Council was “throwing money down the drain a week after setting the rates”.
“It’s ludicrous,” added Colr. Mulholland.
TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas said he was happy to support the name change, and said “Council throws money at things not as important as this”. He said he couldn’t see how the name was offensive in any shape, form or fashion.
SDLP Colr. Maura Hickey warned the move could set a dangerous precedent.
Colr. Callan spoke again, at length, to say the name had already been there for well over 100 years but had been left out. He said councillors should be trying to emulate Mr Alexander “who delivered for his local area”.
Colr. Callan said while money would have to spent to accommodate the name change, it would strengthen tourism.
Just before the vote was taken, committee chair, SDLP Colr. Margaret Anne McKillop wondered how Mr Alexander would feel about Council spending £12,000.
Unionists on the committee voted for the motion, while Sinn Fein and SDLP members voted against it.
The proposal also asked that a portrait of Mr Alexander be restored and displayed in the town centre building.
The matter will now go to full a full Council meeting later this month.