MEMBERS of Saving Necarne, the campaign group calling for a community led approach to the Irvinestown estate’s future, have expressed their disgust that councillors once again held their discussions on the site in secret during this month’s full council meeting.
Up to 15 protesters gathered outside The Grange in Omagh ahead of Tuesday night’s meeting, calling on Fermanagh and Omagh District councillors to “put your community’s needs first”.
The group had sent a letter to the council, requesting the opportunity to present to members regarding an “open and inclusive way forward”, which they said they believed “has the best potential to lead to a sustainable future for Necarne’s heritage”.
But when the matter was raised in the chamber, Director of Community, Health and Leisure, Robert Gibson, who was standing in for Chief Executive, Brendan Hegarty on the night, advised that the matter be discussed under “confidential matters”.
To date, five local groups/businesses have submitted their expressions of interest in Necarne.
During last month’s Policy and Resources Committee meeting, members received an update on these Expressions of Interest and recommended that Gardum Holdings Ltd be invited to attend a future meeting to present their proposal and respond to members’ questions.
Following discussions behind closed doors on Tuesday night, which lasted almost an hour, members of the press and individuals from the campaign group were invited back into the chamber to be told councillors had agreed with the recommendation to invite the company to a future meeting.
Advising that the process of considering expressions of interest was still ongoing, Mr. Gibson said it had also been recommended that members do not meet with the Saving Necarne group until this had reached a conclusion.
Speaking to The Impartial Reporter immediately after the meeting, one campaigner questioned the council’s conduct.
“I cannot understand the secrecy,” he said, “They are continuing to hold their secret meetings and we have been excluded again. I cannot believe that the councillors are abiding by this secrecy.
“They have been elected by the people of the area. It undermines democracy and we certainly didn’t elect our councillors to do that.
“The few councillors who have spoken to us have been surprised by our interest and they have realised they have been working in the dark and are part of a very secret policy.
“But people power can change all that.”
Dawn Farrell, another member of the group who stood in protest outside The Grange on Tuesday night, was raised on Necarne Estate.
“I have so many happy memories of growing up there,” she said, “It was just one big play area, you could go where you wanted without restriction. I find it so sad to see the castle go to ruin now. How can the council be allowed to do this and no one says anything about it? Why won’t anyone speak to us? Why all the secrecy?
“My sister still lives there now. It is a place to go to escape the rest of the world. You can bring your kids there and they can run around freely. I have no idea what lies ahead for it. The memories that I have are a thing of the past now.”