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£1m funds in jeopardy if Derry and Strabane council insists on naming bridge after Ivan Barr

By Donna Deeney

Published 10/09/2015

The new footbridge in Strabane is at the centre of a council row
The new footbridge in Strabane is at the centre of a council row
The new footbridge in Strabane is at the centre of a council row

A million pounds of Government funding is at risk if Derry City and Strabane Council doesn't change the name of a new footbridge in Strabane.

Sinn Fein insists its title was decided on four separate occasions when after a majority vote it was agreed to name it in honour of former party member Ivan Barr.

DUP minister Mervyn Storey has warned he will withdraw his Department for Social Development's funding in 30 days if an alternative isn't found in line with stipulations he set that the name cannot be political.

Sinn Fein insists the title is not political, and the structure is being named after the late Mr Barr because he was instrumental in having it built.

The controversy over the span - which is costing a total of £3.4m - has rumbled on since February when Mr Storey requested a shortlist of possible names.

But the only one submitted by the council was the 'Ivan Barr Bridge'.

Sinn Fein councillor Karina Carlin said the responsibility for naming the footbridge was the council's, not the minister's, and it will remain, despite Mr Storey's threat.

She said: "This bridge has a name. It is the Ivan Barr Bridge. It was voted on not once, not twice, but four times, and all four times a majority of Derry City and Strabane District councillors voted to call the bridge after Ivan Barr.

"I think it is a bit rich of Mervyn Storey to try and dictate what this council does when there is a centre in Castlereagh named after his party leader Peter Robinson.

"He is a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, but you have to wonder if he understands what 'democratic' means. This is not his personal money, it is from the public purse, and if necessary we will take the matter to the Equality Commission because we will not let a minister in Belfast dictate to us."

Have your say: What do you think the name of the bridge should be? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below.

Four other suggested names for the bridge discussed were the John Dunlop Bridge, after the man who penned the American Declaration of Independence whose family originated in Strabane; the Meeting House Bridge; Unity Bridge and O'Cahan's Bridge. The DUP's Rhonda Hamilton said a name that both communities had affinity with would have been better.

She said: "I would have preferred the bridge to be called Meeting House Bridge because it is built on Meeting House Street and it is neutral. That is a name neither community would object to and it fits with the minister's criteria."

A DSD spokeswoman said: "One of the conditions around DSD's funding of the bridge was that the grant should not be used for the purpose of, or in any way connected with, the promoting of any political party or religious viewpoint. The council accepted grant funding on this basis.

"The minister wants the bridge to be seen as a facility that all sides of the community can relate to and he does not feel that this is best achieved by naming the bridge after any individual or family known to be politically significant to only one section of the community, or to have clear party political affiliations."

Belfast Telegraph

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