Concern is growing over the future ownership of the city’s historic walls and the ramifications a change in ownership may have for the cultural and historic identity of the Protestant people of Londonderry.
Custodianship has always lain with The Honourable The Irish Society (HIS), that represents the London Guilds which financed the building of the City Walls in 1613, but recent meetings about the future of the mile-long monument has given rise to fears that a change to local ownership would result in further erosion of Protestant identity.
General Secretary of the Apprentice Boys, Billy Moore, said the ABOD had concerns about ownership moving out of the hands of the HIS: “The Honourable The Irish Society built these walls in 1618 and last year celebrated the 400th anniversary of the building of the walls. It would be a bit ironic in 2014 if we were talking about taking away the ownership from the Honourable the Irish Society, the organisation that built the City Walls.”
Stressing that ownership should remain in the hands of the HIS, he said the ABOD would, however, agree to serve on a walls management committee.
“To be represented in the management at a local level is right and proper, as we are on the ground every day of the week and can see if there are problems and what needs to be repaired. We are totally against ownership being taken away from the HIS.
“Ownership of the walls must remain in the hands of those that built them,” he said.
The DUP’s William hay said recent meetings had caused concern and worry: “There is worry among the wider unionist community that ownership will be taken over by a local committee.
“There is a strong feeling that the walls should remain in the ownership of the Honourable the Irish Society and I know not everybody will be in support of a transfer of ownership to a local group. Management is different to ownership,” he said.
Meanwhile, PRO for the City of Londonderry Grand Orange Lodge, Victor Wray, said City Lodge members would be very concerned at any change to the lease on the City Walls.
“We would be concerned at any change of the lease handing ownership over to a private company. The cultural and historic link of the City Walls with the London Guilds that financed and built them must remain intact,” he said.
“We would like to think we could continue to use the walls whenever we need to without opposition and would be against any further erosion of the Protestant Unionist Loyalist identity. We view any dilution of the PUL identity with the London Guilds as an attack on the PUL minority and as such totally contrary to Section 75 and other legislation that protects minority racial groupings,” he said.
Ulster Unionist Alderman, Mary Hamilton, said: “The Ulster Unionist Party are adamant that we want to keep out City Walls as they are. The UUP is totally opposed to any dilution of the ‘London’ in Londonderry.
“Whenever you look at the work the London Guilds did for this city, not only in financing and building these historic walls, but also providing stained glass windows in the Guildhall, it is clearly essential that the link with London remains. The UUP wants to retain it’s connection with London and in so doing maintain our British heritage and links with London.
“On a personal level I cannot believe anyone would want to do anything to jeopardise the cultural and historic links of this city with London. The City Walls are one of the most historic aspects of this city’s history. We interfere with that at our peril,” she said.