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Parties overrule Sinn Fein objections to praise services being held in town park

Lurgan Park looks set to be the venue for seven evening praise services this summer despite opposition to the planned religious services from Sinn Fein.

A request to use the park for seven evenings throughout July and August for a short church service was submitted to Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council by Lurgan Baptist Church and came before the environmental services committee on Tuesday.

Each service will see singing, Bible reading and a short Bible message take place around Lurgan Park’s fountain from 4.30pm to 5.30pm.

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It is estimated approximately 100 members of Lurgan Baptist Church will attend each service which will also be open to the general public.

Sinn Fein councillor Keith Haughian said Lurgan Park was used by people ‘to escape the pressures of daily life’

The request was brought to the committee as council’s by-laws state that “no person shall preach, lecture or take part in any public meeting for political, religious or any other purpose … except with the prior consent of the council …”

Committee members were told an assessment has been carried out and officers are not aware of any equality or good relations implications.

However, opposition was expressed by Sinn Fein councillor Keith Haughian who said the park is used by all sections of the community.

“Our party are opposed to this, I am not happy at all that this has even been properly considered to be honest as our parks and leisure facilities, Lurgan Park in particular, is used by all sections of the community,” said Mr Haughian.

“People use the park as somewhere they can go to escape the kind of pressures of daily life. It is actually irrelevant which church it is, we don’t feel and I don’t feel, that any church or group should be using the park on a consistent basis like this.

“To come into a public space for seven Sundays this year is something that I find incredible that we, as a council, are even considering.

“I am happy for officers to work with this particular church to find an alternative venue or to work with them for space, but Lurgan Park is not the space and I would propose that we do not accept the officer recommendation.”

DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray said he was disappointed by Mr Haughian’s remarks, describing them as “regrettable and unfortunate”.

DUP Alderman Mark Baxter noted lots of different activities and events take place in the park.

UUP councillor Jill Macauley said she would be happy to support the recommendation as did SDLP councillor Thomas Larkham and Alliance Party councillor Brian Pope.

The 14 members of the Alliance Party, DUP, SDLP and UUP present voted in favour of approving the request, while the four Sinn Fein councillors present voted against.