Strabane footbridge set to open... but name row rumbles on
A multi-million pound bridge in Strabane will open without a name after councillors failed to agree one.
The Sinn Fein bloc on Derry City and Strabane District Council, along with independent members, wanted to name the bridge after the late Sinn Fein councillor Ivan Barr, but this was repeatedly rejected by Regional Development Minister Mervyn Storey.
The £3.2m footbridge, which is due to be officially opened next week, will link the Ballycolman and Fountain Street/Springhill areas of Strabane. It has been funded by a number of bodies, including the Department for Social Development (DSD).
Mr Storey laid out criteria for possible names for the bridge, saying it must not be named after any political figure. He later threatened to withdraw his department’s £1m contribution after Mr Barr’s name was put forward four times.
Alternatives from other parties included the John Dunlop Bridge, after the man who printed the American Proclamation of Independence, whose family originated in Strabane, the Meeting House Bridge, Unity Bridge and O’Cahan’s Bridge. None was put forward for consideration by the minister.
This week, the council voted to leave the bridge unnamed after Mr Barr’s family intervened, rather than risk ratepayers in Strabane and Derry having to pick up the costs if Mervyn Storey stuck to his threat.
A statement on behalf of the Barr family said: It has been a great source of pride to the family of Ivan that his comrades in Sinn Fein sought to remember his service to the town by having the new bridge named after him.
“Ivan was a proud Strabane man and it would be an injustice if his memorial were to be a financial burden on the town he was so proud of.
“The DUP minister is attempting to bully the people of Strabane by threatening to impose a financial penalty on the town if the bridge is named after Ivan.
“It would be unthinkable to Ivan himself and to his family if the people of Strabane were to suffer a financial penalty.”
Sinn Fein said they would be guided by the Barr family, and at this week’s full council the party called for the bridge to have no name at all.
Sinn Fein councillors Karina Carlin and Brian McMahon said: “It is with deep regret that from the moment this proposal for civic recognition was made, unionist councillors and SDLP councillor Patsy Kelly pro-actively worked to not only politicise the issue, but with the connivance of DUP DSD minister Mervyn Storey have sought to undermine the democratic decision of Strabane District Council, and subsequently re-affirmed by Derry City and Strabane District Council, by tactics of the worst kind.
Those who voted against naming the bridge after Ivan Barr included Ulster Unionist councillor Derek Hussey.
He said: “I do have to say that Ivan Barr’s family have acted in a way that I expect Ivan would have acted himself.
“They are trying to ensure that the ratepayers are not going to be burdened, and the Ivan Barr that I knew, although we differed politically, in no way would he have burdened the ratepayers.”