A charity has rejected claims it is holding Derry City Council to ransom over rent for a new walkway along the River Foyle.
The Honourable The Irish Society has been accused of demanding more money from the local authority for access to a small parcel of land needed to construct a £2m walkway between the Peace Bridge and the Foyle Bridge.
Sinn Fein councillor Gerry MacLochlainn accused the charity of not being very honourable.
The council plans to develop the greenway pedestrian and cycle path along the Foyle’s east bank.
Edward Montgomery, The Honourable The Irish Society’s representative in Ireland, revealed that Derry City Council had been seeking a deal to secure use of a small portion of their site for the nominal rental fee of £1 a year.
The land is on the fringe of the Society’s 28-acre Gransha marshlands nature reserve.
Mr Montgomery said a deal has now been reached, after two years of correspondence, that will involve the council paying several hundred pounds a year.
He said: “The council has been trying to drive this project through for some time and we said yes in principle at least two years ago. It is certainly not our fault it ended up last minute; there was a tremendous difficulty getting council to engage with us. The Honourable The Irish Society has a duty to make a proper use of their assets so it raises money for charitable projects.
“A deal has been reached and we are talking about modest rent of hundreds per annum. The society has to account to the Charity Commissioners and its auditors for the proper use of its assets. We had to come to some sort of sensible solution. The initial council proposal of £1 per year obviously wouldn’t have looked very wise.”
Mr MacLochlainn had claimed: “The Honourable The Irish Society is insisting on Derry City Council paying rent for a small portion of land which is integral to the walkway.
“The intransigence of The Honourable The Irish Society belies its supposedly charitable status and calls into question its true role within our society. I find nothing ‘honourable' in the stance being adopted by the society.
“Whilst Sinn Fein will not be jeopardising the very worthwhile greenway project, we do oppose being held to ransom in this manner.”
“Derry City Council is on the threshold of major opportunities arising from the new Regeneration Plan, the City of Culture and Council’s Corporate Plan.
“In view of this we will be demanding that the Honourable Irish Society provides Council with a full inventory of its land assets which will allow us all to establish how much of an impediment or otherwise this organisation will be towards the future development of our city and district.”
The Honourable The Irish Society was set up in 1613 by a group of London trade guilds, at the request of the Crown, to carry out the plantation and fortification of Derry. The society, now based in Coleraine, has retained ownership of the famous Walls of Derry and various other sites across the city and the county. Mr Montgomery said the society had developed a good relationship with Derry City Council over various other projects in the city and has offered to meet with Mr MacLochlainn.