Belfast Telegraph

Derelict Derry buildings used by rioters may be razed

By Mark Bain

Derelict buildings that rioters used as cover to launch attacks during six consecutive nights of unrest in Londonderry could be knocked down.

The demolition of the vacant buildings at Meenan Square will be considered after a special meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council was held to discuss the recent trouble in the Bogside.

Councillors heard how the derelict site was the focal point for the trouble and the focus of a search carried out by Army bomb squad members last Friday.

SDLP councillor Martin Reilly said he wanted the council to send a message out to those affected by the violence that they stood in support with them.

"Not only is the square an eyesore locally, it's a blight on the city as a whole," he said.

"It's clearly visible from Derry's Walls and the flyover, which is a main route through the city.

"It detracts from the image of Derry at a time when we're trying to attract more tourists. It's not an image we want to portray.

"The SDLP called this special meeting as it's the only opportunity, in the absence of a functioning Assembly, to meet together in our capacity as elected representatives to say to the residents of the Bogside and the Fountain, and to those who had their work vans damaged or hijacked, that we stand with them. The acts of violence which they have had to endure have not been in our name.

"But the meeting was not simply about condemnation. It was about making it clear to those who fire guns and throw petrol and blast bombs that their actions do nothing for our city or indeed for our country.

"As a council we have to be taking a lead in coming up with a solution to Meenan Square. Other agencies will obviously be working in the background, but I'm pleased council officials will now be tasked with doing their homework on finding the best way forward.

"The PSNI and local residents are well aware the Square has been at the heart of violence and any steps to address this and make the area safer for the community should be welcomed."

Sinn Fein's Patricia Logue put an amendment forward whereby council would look at the potential demolition of the buildings as an alternative to redevelopment.

Independent councillor Paul Gallagher said he could not support the motion, adding that he felt it was seeking a "big funding cheque".

Responding, Ms Logue said she would happily sign the cheque herself if it brought some relief to people living in the area. The proposal was passed by a majority vote with support from all the main political parties.

Manager of the Gasyard Development Trust, Linda McKinney, said that any move to demolish the Meenan Square site was long overdue.

"The empty buildings need tumbled as soon as possible. They provide a safe haven for anyone engaging in anti-social behaviour and anything that can be done to speed up the process should be welcomed," she said.

"The area is a magnet for trouble.

"There's a real opportunity there to create a beautiful space that can only benefit the whole community in the Bogside."

Local Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan added: "It needs redeveloped and I hope plans are formalised soon."

Councillors also voted by a majority to condemn the recent violence in the city, though a number of independent republican councillors abstained.

Belfast Telegraph

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