TUV leader Jim Allister has ignited a row over the future of Magherafelt’s Orange Order arches and Union flag claiming fears that both are to be axed from the town centre are not being addressed.
The TUV MLA waded into the issue after being contacted by “a number of concerned residents” who said their fears over proposals surrounding a Public Realm Scheme were being ignored.
The concerns centre upon state-of-the-art plans to make the town centre more ‘shared, neutral and friendly’ which some feel could spell the end of the Union flag, situated in the Diamond and the Orange Order arches, erected during the Twelfth celebrations.
In his comments to the MAIL, Mr Allister urged unionist politicians to make a stand over any such plans, and accused Sinn Fein of attempting to “cleanse” Magherafelt.
Speaking this week, Mr Allister said: “On the foot of concerns expressed by local unionists that an outcome of the shared space proposal could be a banning and removal of the Union flag and the Twelfth arch, which have been an stringent part of the town centre.
“I suspect that within this proposal there is a Sinn Fein agenda to cleanse Magherafelt of any British manifestation or attachment which will contribute to making Magherafelt a cold place for unionists.
“I would therefore urge unionist councillors to act on these concerns and refuse to be a part to be a party that could see the flag and the arch removed and indeed could make the town centre a no-go area for parades,” he said.
Mr Allister’s comments have now sparked a war-of-words between the town’s two main parties who have hit back at the Traditional Unionist Voice leader and accused him of “scaremonering” the public.
DUP MLA for Mid-Ulster Ian McCrea also sensationally blamed the Traditional Unionist Voice party of allowing such issues to evolve in the town because the party split the unionist vote at last year’s elections.
He said: “Firstly, the TUV is in no position to make such comments as at last year’s elections they ran two members up against other unionist candidates knowing full well that this would split the unionist vote in the district.
“This led to the council having a Sinn Fein majority and allowed Sinn Fein to take control of the council after the DUP held those seats for many years.
“This means that if Sinn Fein want to push something through, they have the numbers to do that, and that is solely down to the TUV splitting the vote.” continued on page 5
Mr McCrea continued: “There is no point in saying that Sinn Fein does not have an agenda. They are trying to create a cold house for unionists, but, they must remember that there is a unionist community in the district.
“They say they work for everyone but at every opportunity they are trying to remove British culture. “Sinn Fein realise they are not getting a united Ireland so they are attempting to make things as awkward in the Magherafelt area as possible.”
The DUP MLA concluded: “As far as my party is aware there are no plans to remove either the flag or the arches from the town. Roads in Magherafelt are owned under the Queens Highway and Sinn Fein have no control over parades. Mr Allister is clearly scaremongering.”
Responding to Mr Allister’s comments, Sinn Fein councillor Sean McPeake said: “Instead of sniping from the sidelines Mr Allister would be better engaged in trying to promote the positive aspects of the Town`s centre Public Realm regeneration proposals instead of scaremongering over the future area being a no-go area for parades etc.
“The facts of the matter are that presently Magherafelt town centre is anything but a shared space for nationalists with the flying of the union flag in The Diamond all the year round.
“If Magherafelt town centre is to become a truly shared space, accessible and non-threatening to all communities then that is exactly what it has to be.
“Recent proposals to regenerate and modernise the town`s centre that will benefit the people of our entire district are to be very much welcomed. The proposals are premised upon the concept of providing better traffic throughout, providing more enhanced street-scaping and providing a welcoming environment to all in an inclusive and in a non-threatening way,” he said.
The consultation period for Magherafelt’s Public Realm Scheme closed at the end of March and included a state-of-the art computer make-up of the town centre. The plans were displayed in Meadowlane Shopping Centre, Magherafelt District Council Offices and The Bridewell.