Dissidents can’t be allowed to derail us

Sharon O'Connor, Derry City Council's new Chief Executive Officer, pictured at her office in Strand Road yesterday morning. 2810JM20

Sharon O'Connor, Derry City Council's new Chief Executive Officer, pictured at her office in Strand Road yesterday morning. 2810JM20

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Dissident republican violence can’t be allowed to derail Derry’s ambitions ahead of the City of Culture celebrations, the new chief executive of the City Council has said.

Sharon O’Connor, who started her new job last week, says a “very, very tiny percentage of people who continually look back” can’t stymie “our children and grandchildren enjoying a prosperous future.”

The new Town Clerk - a mother-of-three - says it’s “deeply unfortunate” that there are still people in society “who can’t move forward.”

“I grew up in Belfast through the very worst of the Troubles and I can assure you that I don’t want my children and grandchildren having to live through similar experiences,” she told the ‘Journal’.

“While I’m deeply disappointed that there are still people out there who can’t move forward, I’m in no way daunted by it.

“If they can’t be persuaded to follow a different path, then all of us need to demonstrate to them that we won’t be daunted by their negative activity. Since my arrival in Derry, I haven’t met anyone with any sympathy for this backward looking mentality.”

Ms. O’Connor - the eldest in a family of eleven from North Belfast - has worked in local government for the past decade, holding various portfolios with Down District Council.

She also has a background in the community sector, playing a key role in the ‘Making Belfast Work’ programme, and was a founding member of a successful social economy project in her home town.

She says that part of her new role is to help enable the delivery of the ambitious ‘One Plan’ for Derry - the regeneration project which aims to transform Derry into the economic hub of the North West.

Sharon O’Connor says she’s excited by these challenges.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for people to play an active role in the regeneration of their city.”

Turning to City of Culture 2013, Ms. O’Connor says people will be “astonished” at some of the ideas and events planned for the city.

After having a “sneak preview’ of what’s on the agenda, Ms. O’Connor said: “The key components are truly astonishing. If major aspects of the programme come to pass, it will knock people’s socks off.”