EU President José Manuel Barroso has hailed Derry’s Peace Bridge as one of the “most significant” projects in the history European PEACE programme.
To mark the opening of the new structure, Mr Barrosso said the opening of the £14.6m development “symbolises our shared hope for continued peace and improved prosperity for the citizens of Derry”.
As thousands of people converged on the Foyle embankment and the city centre to mark the official opening of the foot and cycle crossing, political leaders were united in welcoming the momentous occasion as a positive step in the city’s history.
The Portuguese EU President was represented at the official opening of the bridge by the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, Austrian politician, Johannes Hahn, who said the bridge will “further help” Derry achieve it goals.
After cutting a ribbon and declaring the bridge officially open, Mr Hahn said: “It will encourage greater levels of cross community integration and usher in a new period of peace and reconciliation for this city.”
First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who stepped in tandem on to the bridge to lead the procession of VIPs across the structure, agreed that the Foyle ‘s latest crossing signified the city’s ambition.
Mr McGuinness said the bridge opening heralded a new start for the city. “Standing here today looking at the curvature of the bridge, it’s just such a beautiful object in my opinion.
“Obviously it allows people to travel back and forwards across the river, but it also allows them to see the city from a whole new perspective.
“This is a bright brand new day for the city and hopefully there will be many more of them in the future.
“When you look at what is happening with the City of Culture and all of the other things that are going to happen, it is a very exciting time for Derry and the people of this city.”
Mr Robinson said he was heartened by the spirit of the people in Derry.
“People recognise it as a historic city, but also one in which they are very much looking to the future,” he said.
“Here they have a bridge that really is something special, but it is not standing on its own because there is so much else happening in and around the city.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the bridge would join “hearts and minds” in the city’s “journey of peace”. “Today is a huge and historic milestone on the path to a new future,” he said. He added that “isolated evildoers” could not be allowed to succeed in undermining the determination of the people of Derry for peace and prosperity.
Derry’s Mayor Alderman Maurice Devenney described the opening celebrations as a significant occasion for everyone in the city. “The Peace Bridge will bring our communities together to help develop tourism, regeneration an good relations.”
Nobel Peace laureate and former SDLP leader John Hume put his feelings simply: “This is a momentous day for the people of Derry. It’s great thing for the city.”