Belfast Telegraph

Religious segregation in cemeteries could end in Northern Ireland council area

By Allan Preston

Mid-Ulster Council is set to re-examine a policy separating cemeteries into Protestant and Catholic areas.

Two of the council's five cemeteries - Cookstown Cemetery and Polepatrick Cemetery in Magherafelt - are divided along religious lines.

However, an options paper on the future of the arrangement is in the process of being prepared for the council's environment committee, the Tyrone Courier reports.

The policy is relatively unusual as council-owned sites in Belfast and the Londonderry areas are now mixed.

Cookstown Cemetery is currently divided, but any future expansion could be mixed if the rules change.

Polepatrick in Magherafelt is also segregated, but it has a small mixed area with additional space for expansion.

In Dungannon, Drumcoo and Coolhill Cemeteries are divided and have no further plots for sale. Cottagequinn is the only mixed, council-owned cemetery in the area.

Cookstown UUP councillor Mark Glasgow warned any change could create tensions.

"As a council, we have to respect the wishes of the deceased," he said.

"No one has ever complained to me about it (segregation), and I don't think that it's right that people should have to fight over their burial ground."

"If someone was bereaved during the Troubles, for example, their family obviously wouldn't feel all that comfortable being put in a location where they felt they had been betrayed by a particular side.

"My own church doesn't have a graveyard, so I know I would like to go to the cemetery and be buried in my own family plot."

However, SDLP Magherafelt councillor Christine McFlynn said she would have no problem changing the rules, subject to a public consultation.

"Polepatrick has a cross-community area and the Catholic church also has Milltown Cemetery, which a lot of people use, she added.

"I would have no problem with a change."

Historian and former Sinn Fein Belfast Lord Mayor Tom Hartley said a lack of space was more concerning than religious division.

"I remember that when the Belfast City Cemetery opened, it was meant to be inter-denominational, but then of course there was a dispute and they ended up with two cemeteries," he explained.

"Today, it's inter-denominational, as is the case for Derry and Strabane District Council's burial grounds.

"I don't know about Mid-Ulster, but in Belfast a lot of graveyards have a (lack of) space, and I think even church burial grounds will end eventually."

by allan preston

Belfast Telegraph

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