A ROW over Portadown’s loyalist arches erupted after a DUP councillor confirmed that Sinn Fein “have questioned every aspect of arches at Parkmount, Edenderry, Rectory Park and Jervis Street over the Twelfth period”.
A Freedom of Information request from Councillor Robert Smith (DUP) to Roads Services revealed that Councillor Gemma McKenna (SF) had queried the Roads Service on several issues surrounding the arches - safety, insurance, religion and politics, structural engineering, planning permission and equality.
“It all emerged from previous years when Sinn Fein were miffed at the erection of the arch at Parkmount in their so-called territory - even though that arch has been in place every July for decades,” said Mr Smith. “But it’s even more sectarian when they focus on arches in loyalist areas like Edenderry and Rectory. They’re trying to get them banned, and frankly, it’s an insult on the intelligence of the communities there.
“The arch organisers make sure that they consult with roads officers to satisfy every aspect of the legislation, be it insurance, health and safety and whatever. They have intelligent and professional relations with the Roads Service. The last thing they want is for an arch to collapse because they failed to comply with the legislation.
“Councillor McKenna and Education Minister John O’Dowd, MLA for Upper Bann, actually met with Roads Service in relation to the arches, and it comes as no surprise that every ‘i’ had been dotted and every ‘t’ crossed. Otherwise, the arches wouldn’t have been permitted. You’d think the Education Minister would have more pressing issues within the shambles of his Department than looking into various aspects of loyalist arches.
“They would be better employed finding out whether illegal memorials to the IRA in various parts of Northern Ireland are insured, or indeed have planning permission. It shows how sectarian they are, despite their honeyed words of a shared society.”
Miss McKenna insisted that she “posed a number of questions” to the Department of Regional Development after constituents raised “health and safety and equality concerns” around the erection of the arch on the Garvaghy Road.
She said, “As an elected representative I have a duty to represent my constituency and to ensure that public safety and public interests are paramount. I would expect all elected representatives to support and assist in fulfilling these objectives.
“Through my correspondence with the Roads Service section of the Department I identified a number of procedural anomalies which were inconsistent with requirements laid down in legislation. As a result I entered into correspondence with the PSNI in an effort to resolve some of these inconsistencies and eventually convened meetings with the regional manager of Roads Service and the Area Chief Inspector. As a result of these meetings and follow-up correspondence some necessary changes have now been implemented.
“It was always my objective to ensure that safety and equality legislation was observed and that the standard was the same across the borough.
“To this end I forwarded a number of questions to the Department to ensure that the changes were being implemented across the area.
“At no time did I seek to use this issue for political gain and consciously deferred from making the irregularities public preferring instead to bring about real change. Unfortunately since ill-informed politicians from other parties seek to use the issue for ulterior motives we may have to reconsider our position.”
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