A clergyman forced out of Limavady in the 1980s will not be granted the freedom of the borough, after unionist councillors voted against the move.
Reverend David Armstrong left the town after a backlash from within his Presbyterian church over his decision to shake hands with a Catholic priest.
He received loyalist death threats over his Christmas message of goodwill to Catholic counterpart Fr Kevin Mullen.
The vote for the SDLP motion was 8-6, but a two-thirds majority was needed.
Fr Mullan said he was “disappointed” at the outcome.
“Neither David nor I asked for this, and when we heard about it we were honoured.
“If it had gone through it would have been momentous.
“The fact that some people have felt it’s inappropriate or untimely I think is a little disappointing.
“There was an opportunity to heal a wound that had been there that had been causing hurt,” he said.
The Presbyterian Moderator, the Reverend Donald Patton, said more groundwork was needed.
“I think the issue shows that we do have a lot of work to do to build understanding and trust and respect across our community.
“We’ve come out of a very difficult situation, and we’re glad that we have put the violence by and large behind us, but we’ve got to work on relationships.
“Maybe the timing for this particular proposal wasn’t quite right, and maybe more groundwork needed to be done,” he said.
After leaving the town, Mr Armstrong retrained as an Anglican minister and is now based at a Church of Ireland parish in County Cork.
Unfortunately, this whole incident back in 1984 is still one of the things Limavady is known for to outsiders, and 24 years later – after a decade and a half of the peace process – one would have thought that trying to efface the memory would be, well, a fitting thing to do. But apparently not. The whole thing was a disgrace from start to finish – all Rev Armstrong did was to go to the local Catholic church on Christmas Day and offer greetings to the congregation. For that small gesture, he faced a sectarian revolt in his own congregation, and ended up being drummed out of town. The pusillanimous leadership of the Presbyterian Church offered him no support whatsoever, and he couldn’t find another Presbyterian congregation in the whole of Ireland willing to take him. If this sort of thing hasn’t happened more often, it’s only because the initial gesture hasn’t been made more often. An instructive counterpoint, then, to the usual happy-clappy scenes of our church leaders.
As for Limavady’s unionist councillors, it might have been expected that they might abstain – a high proportion of them are steeped in anti-Romanist fundamentalism, after all – but voting against? Do they not realise how that makes them look, or do they just not care?