Thursday 18 January 2018

Why did officials remove plaque unveiled by Queen at Irish railway halt within hours?

The Queen unveils the plaque on the platform at Bellarena Station
The Queen unveils the plaque on the platform at Bellarena Station

Rebecca Black

A plaque unveiled by the Queen at a new train halt was removed within 24 hours and has not been replaced three months on.

The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, visited Northern Ireland in July and took in the sights of the north coast, including the Giant's Causeway and Bushmills.

During the one-day visit she also experienced a steam train journey, enjoying some of our most stunning scenery while travelling from Coleraine to the restored platform at Bellarena, Co Derry.

Many people stood at the railway line along the route and cheered as the train passed, before the Queen disembarked and unveiled the plaque at Bellarena halt.

But the plaque was removed within 24 hours of being unveiled, and three months later has not been replaced.

Following an Assembly question asked by People Before Profit MLA Eamonn McCann, it emerged that Translink staff had removed the plaque, believing it could be vandalised.

A Department of Infrastructure stated in its response to Mr McCann: "Translink has advised that, because the halt at Bellarena is unmanned, it was concerned about the safety of the plaque and the possibility that it could be vandalised. Translink is currently looking at options to minimise this risk."

Translink told the Belfast Telegraph last night that its officials are currently considering where to locate the plaque.

East Derry DUP MP Gregory Campbell queried why there would be concerns over the plaque being damaged at the halt. He described Bellarena as a quiet rural village, adding that the residents had been delighted by the Queen's visit.

"It is important that the plaque is put on a visible sighting so people can see that Her Majesty did officially open the halt at Bellerena," he said.

"There was no animosity whatsoever in the area - the local people were very pleased and delighted Her Majesty came to their village. There should be no reason for the plaque to not be on public display." Mr Campbell said Translink needs to ensure the plaque is put back in an appropriate place on public display.

"I would be very surprised if the plaque were to be vandalised," he said. "Even at that, they can put the plaque in a place where it would be very hard to vandalise. It can be covered in special spray to protect it."

Coastway Coast and Glens UUP councillor Aaron Callan said local people want the plaque back. "It was a source of great pride for the local people of Bellarena that Her Majesty unveiled a plaque at the new train platform," he said.

"I was notified by a number of local people that the plaque disappeared within 24 hours. I have been assured that a permanent plaque would be put in place. Locals would like to see that happen and I hope Translink will carry this out."

Mr McCann said he had asked the question because members of the Into The West campaign group - who are pressing for an hourly train service between Belfast and Derry - feared that the removal of the plaque was a sign Translink was reneging on its commitment to the line. But he said he has received assurances that the hourly service is still being worked on.

A spokeswoman for Translink said: "We are currently considering the best way to mount the plaque at Bellarena Station within the context of the simple layout of the halt and its dramatic setting."

Belfast Telegraph

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