Peaceful Protest Rally successful – despite last minute High Court drama
The UFRC where present along with more than 80 members of the public who gathered at Ringhaddy, near Killinchy, on Saturday morning to protest at the lack of action by Newry, Mourne & Down District Council to open a public right-of-way (PROW) which they had asserted in January but which remains blocked and closed – but the rally nearly did not happen.
Originally planned to take place at the beginning of the PROW on a bend in the Ringhaddy Road near the shore, PSNI and Parades Commission permissions had been cleared.
However, at the last minute on Friday afternoon, the landowner initiated proceedings for a High Court injunction to prevent the rally from taking place. The organising group, Concerned Ringhaddy Area Residents, comprising 108 members, acted quickly to challenge this action and offered a compromise location on private ground further along the road. This was eventually accepted by the landowner with the organisers giving a number of sensible undertakings given the anticipated size of the protest. With the help of 8 volunteer stewards the protest passed off peacefully and successfully with no disruption or inconvenience to any party.
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, attended in person and messages of support were received from Councillors William Walker, Terry Andrews and Cadogan Enright. Also from Mike Nesbitt who was attending his party conference. Margaret Ritchie is also a supporter and adds to the cross party aspect of the campaign although it is not within her constituency. Despite being of serious purpose, the rally provided an opportunity for neighbours to meet and talk and swap tales of how and when they themselves had used the PROW in the past.
Many of the protesters had been regular users of the PROW until it was blocked in 2011. Some had ridden horses, others had driven cattle along it and many more walked their dogs along it or just rambled. Several supporters of the protest were from the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs. A History of the right of way was provided for supporters, which described it being in regular use since the nineteenth century and before.
It is hoped that the Council will now ensure that the PROW is once again open for locals, farmers, tourists, artists, birdwatchers and residents. As if also in support, the weather turned brighter and drier as the protesters gathered for a photograph with the PROW along the top of the shore in the background.