Monday, January 28, 2008


By Greg McKevitt - BBC News.

A statue in Limavady town centre has caused a media storm 14,000 miles away on the other side of the world. The monument pays tribute to William Ferguson Massey, who was born in the town in 1856 but emigrated to New Zealand when he was 14. Massey grew up to become prime minister of his adopted country from 1912-25, and was one of the world leaders to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

New Zealand's second-longest serving prime minister landed back in the news 83 years after his death when police were called to Limavady Borough Council's offices on Tuesday night. Councillors had been discussing how to create a neutral environment in council spaces, with Sinn Fein proposing to remove unionist-associated flags and emblems. With feelings running high in the area, two Sinn Fein councillors said they were abused by a crowd of loyalist protesters as they left the building.

The news story has reached New Zealand because one of the items which Sinn Fein suggests should be removed is a statue of the country's former leader. Massey was also an Orangeman, who kept up his interest in the Protestant-based movement as a lodge member in Auckland.

Under the headline 'Irish target NZ PM's statue', Auckland historian Dr Michael Bassett told the New Zealand Herald: "You'd have thought a little town in [Northern] Ireland would be rather proud that one of their people went off to New Zealand and became prime minister. "If multicultural politics involves destroying the history of a place, well then it has no future."

Dr Bassett said any move to remove Massey's statue because of his Orange Order connections would be over the top as he was not an extremist. However, Paddy Butcher, the leader of the Sinn Fein grouping on Limavady Borough Council, told BBC News that the Massey statue "could not be taken in isolation". "There was an inventory of 10 items, one of them a republican dedication to hunger striker Kevin Lynch, which may cause offence to the republican side of the community if it was removed," he said.

"William Massey was a prominent Orangeman, he was the grand master of the Orange Lodge in New Zealand which folded two years after he died. "His track-record was substantially representative of just one side of the community, you cannot cherry-pick neutrality - it's either neutral or not."

Former DUP mayor George Robinson said unionists would not back down over the Massey statue. "There's widespread outrage - he's a man held in very high esteem, there's streets in Limavady and Belfast named after him," he said.

"He's a big tourist attraction as well - I have met relatives of Mr Massey who have visited Limavady just to see the statue. During the tourist season we get quite a few people who come along to see him."



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