Editor's Viewpoint: Time for action to save our heritage
Published 01/08/2011 | 08:00
Heritage is a word which resonates poorly with some people in Northern Ireland. For a country with a folk memory reaching back centuries, concern for historic buildings or sites is often much less than it should be.
We really only take heed when it is too late and the historic sites fall into such disrepair that they cannot be saved or when some catastrophe overtakes them. Such is the case with Herdman's Mill in Sion Mills, one of the most important and oldest industrial buildings in Ireland, first giving employment in 1835 in the important flax spinning industry.
Now that building, which was at the centre of restoration work, including new employment units, has been extensively damaged by a fire. There are fears of sinister hands at work as this is the tenth heritage site to be destroyed in the province since April. That would appear to be stretching coincidence beyond credibility and Environment Minister Alex Attwood is right to seek to call a summit to investigate the fires and how best to protect historic sites.
Sadly it has taken this series of suspicious blazes to get top level action. There is a perception that many historic buildings have been allowed to be levelled by developers or otherwise defaced with little if any statutory intervention. Of course there must always be a balance sought, between the need for progress and the need to remember our heritage, but it can be done sympathetically if all agencies are working from the same blueprint.
The opportunity to create a new cohesive way forward on heritage has now been presented to the statutory bodies and they must make the best use of it. As well, there must be a full investigation into this latest rash of suspicious fires to see if there is any common factor beyond the historic significance of the targets.
Not only has part of our irreplaceable heritage been lost but lives have been endangered and the perpetrators of these arson attacks - if that is what they are eventually found to be - should face the full rigour of the law.