Community relations ‘damaged’ as rivalry grows between republicans

6 - "Free Derry Corner" - this iconic Derry landmark is one of the city's top tourist attractions.
6 - "Free Derry Corner" - this iconic Derry landmark is one of the city's top tourist attractions.

A DUP MLA has warned that a rivalry between Sinn Fein and independent republicans in Londonderry has “hardened” politics in the city and damaged community relations.

Gary Middleton was speaking after Derry City and Strabane District Council passed a controversial proposal to allow council staff to wear the Easter Lily symbol commemorating Irish republicans killed in conflict.

His party colleague, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, had already labelled the move “divisive”.

Mr Middleton said the latest motion was symptomatic of a “hardening” of republican politics at the council since the election of a number of independent republican councillors at the most recent elections.

“There definitely seems to be a hardening of attitudes, and it seems to be the independent councillors who are putting forward some controversial motions,” he said.

“Sinn Fein and to a certain extent the SDLP are almost being put into a corner in that they feel they have to do the same for fear of a backlash.”

He said this “hardening” of republican politics was damaging community relations in his home city.

“It seems to be becoming more and more common,” he said.

“Some of this stuff they’ve been putting through around Israel for example has become quite extreme.

“Relations are not good at the minute. That’s my concern, that community relations are being damaged.”

Mr Middleton’s DUP colleague, councillor David Ramsey, expressed a similar view.

“This is all about putting pressure on Sinn Fein,” he said. “Things were okay here until some of these new republican councillors came on the scene. Every meeting now is a handling. They’re constantly bringing through motions that they know the council has no power over, and it’s just to stir the pot.

“It means that everything is becoming more hard-line.”