Well known former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik says he’s looking forward to revelling in Derry’s celebrations as City of Culture next year.
Mr. Opik, who served as an MP for the constituency of Montgomeryshire from 1997 to 2010, visited St. Columb’s College on Tuesday. The event was organised by the teacher in charge of the school’s debating society, Mrs. Jacqueline Smyth.
“I always like coming to Derry. I’d come here at the drop of a hat and if I can, I’ll be here next year to enjoy what the City of Culture year has to offer.
“Derry was always a confident city but I think that it has found its equilibrium through the peace process and it’s just a pleasure to come here.”
Mr. Opik, who is originally from Bangor, Co. Down, served as the Liberal Democrat’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for over ten years. He said that he developed an affinity with Derry during that time.
“The atmosphere has completely changed. It’s gone from one of tension to one of community. Derry is so much more welcoming to people who have never been here before and when I go home I am always telling friends and colleagues about how amazing Derry is.”
Mr. Opik is perhaps known by many for his relationships with ITV weather presenter Sian Lloyd and one half of the pop group the Cheeky Girls, Gabriela Irimia.
In 2010 Mr. Opik lost his seat in Westminster when he was defeated by Conservative politician Glyn Davies.
Mr. Opik says that whilst he’d like to make a return to Parliament in the future he wants to concentrate on promoting his pop bands and added that he’d like to bring them to Derry in the future.
“One of the bands I manage is called The Electric Flowers. They’ll be going on a UK wide tour soon and hopefully, if everything goes according to plan they’ll play a concert in Belfast and one in Derry.”
Asked for his thoughts on Derry’s City of Culture title Mr. Opik says that he’s confident that it will have a positive impact.
“It’s through something like the City of Culture that the whole population here can experience the benefits. I also think that the size of the city is just perfect. Sometimes things can be lost on a large population but from what I have heard the people here are all experiencing the creativity and warmth of the accolade.”
Tuesday’s event took place as a result of the school’s exploits in a CIPFA organised debating competition.
St. Columb’s College pupils Patrick Mulholland and Christopher Dillon won the competition.
Mr. Opik was chairperson of the judging committee and after speaking with teacher Mrs. Smyth he agreed to visit the school.
“It’s hard not to be impressed by St. Columb’s College. Obviously the school has produced the famous politician John Hume and the gifted poet Seamus Heaney but if you were to ask me who my favourite former pupil is it would have to be Martin O’Neill.
“I am a Leicester City fan and Martin O’Neill was the man who led us into the Premiership.”
See this weekend’s Sunday Journal for more from Lembit Opik.