Irish Republican News · October 3, 2008
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Bigotry renewed, 25 years on

Unionist councillors in Limavady have refused to explain why they blocked a peace gesture towards a past victim of of an infamous act of sectarianism.

The Derry town’s former Presbyterian minister Rev David Armstrong was forced to leave almost 25 years ago after he’d shaken hands with a Catholic priest.

The minister’s enforced departure from Limavady came after he entered the Christ The King church, which was across the road from his First Limavady Presbyterian church, on Christmas Day 1984 to shake hands with Fr Kevin Mullan, who was celebrating Mass.

The gesture, which took place after the church had been repaired following a unionist paramilitary bomb attack, was reported nationally and internationally at the time. Rev Armstrong’s departure from the town with his wife June and their children also received widespread attention.

He’d earlier sympathised with the Catholic congregation after the bomb attack on their church.

At a council meeting on Monday night, an SDLP motion to confer the freedom of the borough on Rev Armstrong and Fr Mullan in a joint ceremony, was passed by eight votes for to six against, but it failed because such a motion requires a two-thirds majority.

Only one unionist vote was needed to pass the motion but all six unionist councillors voted against. None of them spoke on the motion and they refused to speak to reporters after the meeting.

Sinn Féin said that the vote reflected badly on the borough.

The party’s assembly Group leader John O’Dowd said that the result of the vote was “an example of the bigoted mindset which must be challenged in our society”.

“For months Sinn Féin has been attempting to ensure that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are able to operate on the basis of partnership and equality,” he said.

“That means unionists accepting sharing power on the basis of equality with nationalists and republicans.”

Mr O’Dowd said the vote was based “entirely on sectarianism, bigotry and prejudice” and demonstrated “the distance that both the DUP and UUP have to travel”.

“Once again the political leaders of unionism have come up short. They now have a significant job of work to persuade the nationalist and republican community that they are indeed capable of sharing power and taking decisions based on equality.

Meanwhile, Fr Kevin Mullan, who is now in the parish of Drumquin near Omagh and who is a close friend of the Armstrong family, said that the motion was “an opportunity to heal an ongoing sore”.

“David became an exile in his own land and given what happened at the council meeting, he will be heartbroken. This has reopened unhappy memories for both of us. All the churches are trying to understand one another and we will continue to make that long journey in terms of healing and reconciliation”, he said.

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© 2008 Irish Republican News