Limavady councillors clash over high school 'unity bridge'

bridge plans
Image caption Sketches of the proposed 'unity bridge' were presented to Limavady Borough Council on Tuesday evening

Nationalist and unionist councillors have clashed over plans to connect two high schools with a "unity bridge".

St Mary's High School and Limavady High School in County Londonderry presented architectural plans to Limavady Borough Council on Tuesday night in a bid to enhance shared education.

The 'unity bridge' will cost £216,000 and will mainly be funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

A motion was passed by councillors to support the bridge following a debate.

St Mary's High School, a Catholic maintained school, and Limavady High School, a state school mainly attended by Protestants, already work together in extra-curricular activities.

The two schools are divided by a footpath that both schools say is a "physical barrier".

Mary McCloskey, principal of St Mary's, said: "The path attracts anti-social behaviour and has in fact led to some serious incidents in the past.

"The bridge is to enhance safety and create a shared space for our pupils.

"It's about bringing two communities together."

'Council unity'

Representatives from both schools left after the presentation that was followed by a heated discussion.

Sinn Féin councillor Anne Brolly proposed a motion of support for the bridge.

SDLP Mayor of Limavady, Gerry Mullan, suggested that a unionist councillor should second the motion in a bid to "illustrate council unity".

Unionist councillors refused to second the motion.

TUV councillor Boyd Douglas said: "We as councillors are not always singing off the same hymn sheet in here, so perhaps we aren't the best people to be asked about a unity bridge.

"Some councillors have moved on because they feel they have to for others.

"They forget that they once voted against everything unionist-based in the council chamber.

"Limavady is not a shared area when a playground couldn't even be built for Protestant children. Do we really need to use this money for a bridge?"

'Brutally attacked'

Sinn Féin councillor Sean McGlinchey said: "I'm disappointed in Boyd Douglas' comments."

Councillors Douglas and McGlinchey then raised their voices at one another.

Mr Douglas said: "I remember pupils being stoned by nationalists when I was younger."

Mr McGlinchey shouted back: "I was brutally attacked by loyalists when I was younger."

UUP councillor Edwin Stevenson said he would not second the proposal but that he would not stand in the way.

"The bridge idea is well thought out," said Mr Stevenson.

"But we need to get real. This is not going to solve problems within society."

Sinn Féin councillor Cathal McLaughlin said he would second the motion made by councillor Brolly and said he was "disappointed in Boyd Douglas' comments".

Principals Mary McCloskey and Shane Laverty will now take their bid for the bridge forward with support from the council.

They said the shared education programme has committed to covering all architectural and consultancy fees.

Both schools have declined to comment at this stage.

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