Just returned from a very pleasant few days in Derry..with a cross-county excursion into County Donegal.
I like Derry. Effectively, it is a city made by SDLP. I make no apology for saying that.
I rarely visited Derry in the 1970s. Indeed my memories are really of a two month period in 1980, when I had a girlfriend…or maybe just a friend …in Limavady.
She would travel by bus to Derry. I would travel by bus from Dungannon. On a Saturday. Fish and Chips in the same place on the Strand Road and then a Lough Swilly bus (red and cream livery) to Bunrana. Ice Cream. The bus back to Derry. A Record Shop on Carlisle Road. Then farewell at the bombed out bus station.
And notably the Saturday that I missed my bus back to Dungannon and I got a taxi to “follow that bus” and we caught up with the bus in Newtownstewart.
I like Derry. I get there a lot these days. There is always the odd SDLP conference. There is also the fact that the travel is free…GOD Bless Translink. But oddly there is a twenty year period which is about just passing thru Derry.
Yet there is much to like about the city. The Bogside Murals, the Bloody Sunday Memorial… Strangely they are not as confrontational as Belfast murals and memorials. A “matter of fact” rather than “in your face”. History rather than Politics. The SDLP firmly embedded at Council, Westminster and Assembly level.
Just recently, it seems to be trying too hard. The Peace Bridge. That bloody cross-community boat “Doire-Derry-Londonderry” is just annoying. And that whole City of Culture thing. In a very early blog, I did warn that “Derry-Londonderry” would become a normal phrase and really a “letsgetalongerist” victory …the only real legacy of the City of Culture.
Yesterday, my wife tried to persuade me to buy a “Legend-Derry” Tshirt. No way.
But this is a city,built on better instincts. John Hume. …SDLP operating genuine power-sharing.And the distinct air of liberal-minded Social Democracy. It looks like a decent place to live.
The impressive Guild Hall is a monument to unionist dominance and gerrymander. Stained Glass windows commemorate the coronation of “King” George in 1911 and “Queen” Victoria is in the main entrance. The historic injustices seem to be overlooked as Eyes are firmly fixed on the “brand new day” in the “town they love so well”.
An exhibition in the Guild Hall teaches the History of the City. One of those awful audio- visual things where people from the Past…native Irish, planters from England and Scotland, merchants, clergy talk about Derry. Cleverly it uses their voices in part to explain a wedge between religious zealotry and libertarian mercantile interests in the Plantation.
And then there is another audio-visual thing where young people from both communities state how much they learned about the “other side”.
Political Correctness. In a fairly naive, if earnest way.
But can Parity of Esteem be taken too far?
Surely even Victoria is “amused”…indeed pissing herself laughing at the overly earnest three-language signage. English, Irish….and the entirely made up nonsense of Ulster-Scots. The “Aitin-Hoose” indeed. You couldnt make this stuff up…but somebody DID. Surely there is a point where Parity of Esteem is just making fools of us all. Let me state this clearly …in words that may or may not be “Ulster Scots”….there is no such thing as an Ulster-Scots language….IT IS KEEK.
Yet upstairs in the Guild Hall, there is an alcove dedicated to Bloody Sunday and the Saville Enquiry…set up in 1998 and reporting in 2010….finally exonerating the fourteen murdered, their families, their supporters, the City of Derry.
On the bright side…the Council Chamber looks functional and business-like. It doesnt feel “confrontational”. But there is a nagging doubt. SDLP have traditionally been the dominant force in Derry politics. The “New” Council of Derry-Strabane (elected in May 2014) takes over from Derry City Council in April 2015. This now gives SDLP and Sinn Fein equal numbers of councillors. There is the feeling that SDLP is slipping in its old strongholds although there was a little local difficulty involving personalities which affected SDLP.
Although it might be easy to dismiss the Sinn Fein councillors from Strabane as “out of towners”, I dont doubt that the increased numbers of SF councillors will change the nature of the City.