War of words breaks out over War Memorial

The War Memorial in the Diamond, Derry. DERR3715GS099
The War Memorial in the Diamond, Derry. DERR3715GS099

Councillors in Derry have clashed over who is responsible for refurbishing the City’s War Memorial.

In an updated report on ownership of the city centre memorial, presented to Derry City & Strabane District Council’s business & culture committee this week, Director of Business & Culture Stephen Gillespie outlined how members had previously agreed to carry out repairs and maintenance to the war memorial.

This process, however, was subsequently paused for officers to consider who owns the monument, and also consider other memorials in the council area and their treatment.

While the new report did not state who actually owns the memorial, Mr Gillepsie said the council’s legal team had researched the matter and determined that Council has the powers to maintain and upkeep the memorial, if members considered this appropriate. He said that councillors may wish to proceed with this if all the funding needed is secured, while memorials in Castlederg and Strabane would also need to be inspected.

It emerged in May 2016 that the council had estimated the cost of refurbishing Derry’s War Memorial at the Diamond at £250,000, with ratepayers likely have to contribute a significant portion of this.

The committee was told on Tuesday that the potential refurbishment project would be referred to a working group looking at the wider Decade of Centenaries within the local area.

Sinn Fein Colr. Mickey Cooper raised the issue of other funders and suggested the Council look at opportunities to draw down funding from government, Heritage Lottery and Arts Council ahead of the Armistice Centenary commemorations.

Colr. Cooper said that any request for restoring memorials should be discussed through the working group.

DUP Alderman Graham Warke said the refurbishment of the Diamond Memorial “should have taken place last year instead of waiting this long”.

“I would like to welcome this report and hopefully we will get the War Memorial up to standard,” he said.

Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher however said: “If my memory serves me correctly there was a moratorium put on this around trying to ascertain the ownership. This report still hasn’t identified that.

“Even though this is talking about Council has powers, that doesn’t say Council should implement them. If you can identify ownership, and if they can well afford maintenance, that’s where it should be sitting.”

He added that the report had not suggested an amount in terms of cost implications.

Chair of the committee, Sinn Fein councillor Patricia Logue said that there was nothing in the report that suggested Council would definitely take on the work, and said that this would be taken into the working group established to look at all memorials.

Alderman Warke said that the War Memorial was owned by the people of the city and district, adding that 47 percent of the names on the Memorial were people from the nationalist community, the remainder from the Unionist community. “It’s simple, black and white,” he said. “Council have to maintain it by law.”