APPEALS have been made for everyone in Moyle to “take a step back” following a week when ‘death threats’ were made against Unionist councillors and loyalists protested on the streets of Bushmills which led to Council Chairperson, Cllr Padraig McShane (Independent), cancelling two engagements.
Last week started off with heated debate and verbal clashes between Nationalist and Unionist councillors in the Council Chamber in Ballycastle and then on Wednesday an estimated crowd of around 100 loyalists picketed the new Dundarave changing rooms in Bushmills and an official opening ceremony by Cllr McShane did not proceed.
Then on Friday, Cllr McShane, a former Sinn Fein councillor, did not proceed on a ‘walkabout’ in Bushmills in relation to the Townscape Heritage Initiative because of further fears of protests.
It then emerged that two Unionist councillors in Moyle, including Ulster Unionist Willie Graham, received ‘death threats’.
It is understood the message to Cllr Graham said he would receive a “bullet in your head”.
Neither of the two councillors involved wished to comment on the matter when contacted by the Times but it is understood a police investigation has been launched.
After the events of last week, appeals have now been made for calm.
A Nationalist and a Unionist councillor have appealed for cool heads.
Ballycastle SDLP councillor Dónal Cunningham has hit out at the sectarian nature of the “sham” debates within the Moyle Council chamber and events within the area. He described them as a distraction from the real issues which are important to the people of Moyle.
He said: “The people of Moyle are crying out for leadership, economic hope and progressive politics. Sectarianism must be consigned to the politics of the past. Long before it was popular, Moyle Council operated a system and spirit of power sharing, making the district the envy of others.
“The latest string of events reflect poorly on the area and its elected representatives.
“The issues that really matter to people are jobs, economic recovery and the provision and maintenance of first-class public services. These are the areas the SDLP will be focusing upon as we attempt to deliver and improve peoples’ lives.”
And Ulster Unionist councillor Joan Baird said: “The Moyle area has always been a great example to other areas of Northern Ireland and we want that to continue. We want to make sure that the area remains peaceful and everybody needs to take a step back.”
In Bushmills last Wednesday, Cllr McShane was scheduled to open a new sports facility in the area but loyalists said they were protesting about comments he made regarding the Twelfth of July parade in July and there was also reference to Cllr McShane’s current proposal to ‘twin’ Moyle with Gaza in the Middle East.
As the protestors gathered in Bushmills last Wednesday a sizeable police presence was in the area and although Chairman McShane went to the village he decided not to proceed with the official opening.
Derwyn Brewster, from Bushmills Residents and Environment Forum, said: “The demonstration highlighted the on-going discrimination against the minority Unionist community in Moyle, as Councillor McShane had presided over a marked deterioration in community relations.
“Following the Orange Order Twelfth parade in Ballycastle Councillor McShane released a sectarian statement designed to further inflame community relations within the Moyle area,” claimed Mr. Brewster.
Padraig McShane was due to unveil a plaque at the sports centre in the village. It is understood it was removed from the wall.
Cllr McShane said on his arrival in Bushmills he said a police officer said the protestors “would not allow” him to carry out his task.
Cllr McShane said as there were “many women and children present” he cancelled the event “in the interests of safety.”
He felt the protests were “unreflective of the community in Bushmills.”
Padraig McShane said he is prepared to meet with Derwyn Brewster to move the situation forward.
Cllr McShane added: “I feel sometimes that people look for an excuse after an event to qualify why they had the protest. Some people have still not caught on that we are living in a new era with Republicans and Catholics involved, playing their full part in representing the entire community.”
The Chairman added: “All evidence points to the fact that it was myself, and former Independent Councillor Price McConaghy who proposed the changing rooms initiative in Bushmills, and my history in relation to all areas in Moyle speaks for itself.”
Derwyn Brewster, meanwhile, said: “Our message is clear and simple, Cllr McShane has failed to represent the whole community in his role as Council Chairman and he is focused on a narrow and sectarian agenda. It is not in the interests of all the people of Moyle. Therefore we do not believe such a sectarian and divisive individual should be opening the new council facilities here at Dundarave.”
Cushendall Independent councillor Colum Thompson condemned the protest against Padraig McShane’s attempt to opening the changing rooms.
Cllr Thompson said: “This sort of pre-historic, sectarian action should be consigned to the dustbin of history. It had achieved nothing for the village or the people of Bushmills or the entire Moyle area.”
Speaking generally, the councillor added: “There is nothing wrong with having differing political opinions but to threaten an elected representative with violence while he is trying to open a new sports facility is going too far.”
Cllr Thompson said he hoped the PSNI have launched an investigation to find who was responsible for “ripping the plaque from the changing rooms”.