Political leaders from across the UK and Ireland today hailed Derry’s “remarkable” transformation as City of Culture 2013.
Leaders of devolved administrations gathered in the city on Friday for a meeting of the British Irish Council at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster amid heavy security.
It was the first time a meeting of the Council has been held in Derry and only the second time the event has been held in the North.
It was attended by the First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, as well as the leaders of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.
At the start of the meeting the delegates were shown a presentation on the City of Culture by Shona McCartney, Chief Executive of the Culture Company 2013. It was a major festival day for the culture programme as Derry became ‘Music City’ on Friday.
The leaders also discussed the economy, youth unemployment and energy issues.
Speaking at a press conference after the summit, Mr McGuinness, as a Derry man, said he was proud to welcome the leaders to the city.
“I am particularly delighted as I was the person that over two and a half years ago in the aftermath of the city being given the accolade of City of Culture suggested that this big meeting should take place in the city during this year,” he said.
The Deputy First Minister also told the leaders how important the City of Culture is to the people of Derry.
“It is hugely important from the position of reconciliation. What I am very proud of is the way in which this city came together several years ago to make the bid for City of Culture; absolutely amazing. The people of this city are being given an experience the like of which they have never had before and they regard that as precious.
“The first half of this year has been truly extraordinary and the second half will be even more extraordinary. This is a city looking to the future. I think others can learn from what is happening here and that is very important,” he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was impressed with the City of Culture presentation and with the changes that have taken place in Derry.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the City of Culture presents great opportunities for young people. “We had a very brilliant presentation in respect of the City of Culture year and its implications.
“The impetus and the release of the valve of imaginations and creativity to young people has enormous potential. The stimulus has to kept fresh and I hope that the City of Culture organising committees will reflect on what has been done well and what needs to be improved and share that with other cities across Ireland and Britain.”
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said he was keeping a close eye on the City of Culture celebrations.
“I was glad we were able to co-operate in a number of ways in the obvious wholesale success of the City of Culture. We have a wee vested interest in that Dundee is one of the competitors for the next accolade and therefore the experience and nature of what is being done here is of particular interest.”
Welsh Minister Carywn Jones commented on the changes that have occurred since his last visit to the city.
“It has been marvellous to be here in Derry-Londonderry over the last 24 hours. I was last here in 1995 and the change in the city in that time has been quite remarkable,” he said.
During his visit to Derry, Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg paid a visit to Oakgrove Integrated Primary School with Alliance leader David Ford.