UNIONISTS in Bellaghy want nothing to do with plans to turn the former police station in the village into a “shared green recreational space for all”, the monthly meeting of Magherafelt District Council was told.
BY STANLEY CAMPBELL
DUP chairman councillor Paul McLean claimed there was “no appetite” within the unionist community for the proposal and they will not be using it.
It emerged the council recently paid an estimated £215,000 to acquire the site, which had been vacant for a number of years before being put up for sale.
Meetings with cross community representatives came up with the suggestion that the former PSNI building should be levelled, as it was a symbol of the past and an allotment garden provided where a piece of art could be displayed.
Councillor McLean said the council had paid far too much for the site and it would have been a lot cheaper buying a site opposite or a field.
He said he was being told by unionists in Bellaghy that Sinn Fein had simply wanted to “rub unionist noses in it” by buying the police site and turning it into a garden.
The chairman said it would be a one-sided venue and claimed the community representatives did not speak for the wider unionist community in the Bellaghy area.
Continuing, he accused Sinn Fein of discrimination by using the rules of Peace III funding to further their own objectives while recently denying an application from the Orange Order to attend a history course.
Sinn Fein Councillor Sean McPeake pointed out that there were unionist representatives on the grouping which had considered uses for the Bellaghy site. “It strikes me that you don’t know what you want,” he said. He reminded Councillor McLean that the former station had a bad legacy for nationalist community.
Councillor McLean said Sinn Fein were not trying to embrace the minority Protestant community who, he claimed, were not allowed to march down the street to their hall or church.
Ulster Unionist Councillor Jackie Crawford agreed with the chairman that “far too much had been spent” on purchasing the site when the nearby Bawn or school would have made better neutral venues.
Proposing that the council proceed with the allotment suggestion, Sinn Fein Councillor Ian Milne said it was about a shared space and of “a community moving forward”.
He said thanks to the work of the community group over the past six months vandalism was down, as the PSNI could confirm, the village was a better place.
“We are not bogged down by sectarianism,” he stressed. “This is about providing a shared space for a village which has seen some dark times.”