More than two million pounds worth of financial assistance has been granted to a sectarian marching organisation from the European Union’s PEACE III programme.
The funding will be used to renovate the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys organisation, and create a loyalist shrine dubbed the “Siege Heroes Museum” at the site.
In 1689, the northerly Irish city of Derry was a stronghold of King William of Orange, but was besieged by the army of the Catholic King James until it was relieved by British Royal Navy ships.
Every summer the Apprentice Boys hold a provocative march through the predominately Catholic city streets to mark their battle win.
However, in recent years, the loyal order has generally adopted a lower political profile than the more extreme Orange Order. Businesses leaders have also attempted to reduce the levels of violence arising from the ‘Siege of Derry’ parades by encouraging the organisation to rebrand itself as a themed historical society.
The EU-funded makeover of the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall will form part of Derry’s controversial role as the ‘UK City of Culture’ for 2013.
Social Development Minister, DUP hardliner Nelson McCausland claimed the money would be used to “promote a shared and better future by presenting an informed view of an historic chapter in the history of Londonderry”.
The 26 County Environment Minister Phil Hogan said it would “enrich our understanding” of Derry.
Sinn Fein Mayor of Derry Kevin Campbell also backed the funding for the Memorial Hall.
He said: “The city has many historic buildings and this most certainly is one of them, and I look forward to seeing this project being delivered to create a new visitor centre and shared space for the city.”