Unionists to oppose Derry's Walls being handed to council
Unionists in Derry have said they will not support any moves to transfer ownership of the historic walls from the Honourable Irish Society.
The society took ownership of the 400-year-old Derry Walls almost 70 years ago while the Department for Communities' Historic Environment Division is presently responsible for all aspects of management and conservation of the walls.
Foyle Sinn Fein MP Elisha McCallion has raised the possibility of the landmark being transferred to Derry City and Strabane District Council.
The Irish Society said any change in ownership would require cross-community consensus, but DUP Foyle MLA Gary Middleton said he had concerns that the landmark would be politicised.
He said: "Everyone recognises the huge significance of the city walls which attract many tourists and are of particular historical importance.
"Guardians entrusted with the care and maintenance of the walls must ensure that the cultural life that surrounds them is maintained and that we continue to promote Londonderry and its city walls as a tourist attraction.
"Recent projects such as the Walled City lighting strategy and the refurbishment of Walker's Plinth have been examples of partnership working for the enhancement of the historic walls.
"I believe the ownership, which has existed for nearly 70 years, should be kept for the good of all who love this iconic part of our city."
Derry and Strabane District UUP councillor Darren Guy said he is content for the walls to remain under the care of the Irish Society and the Department for Communities.
He said: "The famous walls of Derry hold a very special place in the hearts of the unionist community both within the city itself and much further afield and are now a major tourist attraction for visitors from across the globe.
"The Ulster Unionist Party welcomes the continued involvement of the Irish Society and the acknowledgement of the key role played by the merchants of the City of London in the development of Londonderry.
"For one thing the council does not need the responsibility of ownership of the walls, and I would have concerns that all the various costs involved would only add to an increased burden on local finances.
"As a local councillor, I would like to see the process of getting agreement on events run on them made easier because I am aware that the Friends of Derry's Walls had to return funding they obtained to hold events for the 400th anniversary because they couldn't get timely confirmation from the relevant authorities.
"That obviously needs to be resolved, but it does not require a change of ownership to do that."
Without the backing of unionists on the council a transfer would be doomed to fail.
A Sinn Fein spokesman said he was disappointed with Mr Middleton's stance but this would not deter further discussions.
He said: "The historic city walls are a key tourist attraction and transferring their ownership and management into local hands would help realise their potential and assist the regeneration of the local economy.
"Discussions are ongoing with all parties and stakeholders to ensure their views are represented.
"It is disappointing that the DUP have now taken this position after supporting the move.
"We will continue discussions on this issue in order to develop our local economy."