Bernadette McAliskey: Civil Rights icon backing Eamonn McCann
Bernadette McAliskey is a former MP for Mid-Ulster and remains one of the most well known faces of the Cvil Rights campaign of the 1960s. She is backing Eamonn McCann in next week's election.
“There are those in Tyrone who insist that people from Derry City suffer homesickness before they get as far as Dungiven. Whatever the truth of the territorial joke, I can forgive Derry people for missing the place when I see the sun shine down on the green grassy slopes from Derry’s wall to the Bogside; get a cross river view of the glistening white magnificence of the Ebrington buildings, or enjoy the clean sweep of the modern architecture of the Peace Bridge. Eamonn McCann has been waxing eloquent on the beauty of his home town as we meander on a team mission campaigning through the stout walls with the great street name additions of ‘within’ and ‘without’. His knowledge of and deep affection for his own place is evident and infectious, as is his thoughtful vision for its future. I declare an interest here, but Derry people should listen a lot more carefully to the man’s wisdom and the breadth of his ideas for Derry taking its rightful place as a city in which people can fully enjoy living.
“Although I do be in and out of Derry, the opportunity to walk the city and its environs as we campaign in the election for hope and change, from Bogside to Eglington via the scenic route of Culmore and somehow managing to detour by Shantallow is a different experience. I am reminded of how the city has physically changed and grown since I first saw it on 05 October 1969 and it laid claim to a bit of my heart and soul. We were on a mission of hope and change that day, too, but we certainly didn’t get to walk too far, as I recall.
“I am also struck by the things that haven’t really changed at all. The inequality of resources (post-conflict speak for poverty in case you were wondering!) remains visible as we walk the maze of streets of the still largely segregated housing estates talking to people who are still waiting for the ‘opportunities arising from the peace’ bus to stop at their door with a peace process goody bag for them. Irish Street Estate looks exactly as it did when the student march arrived over the hill, the road has just got harder to cross. The people in the Creggan and the Bog are still definitely in the streets marked ‘without’ and great swathes of new Creggans stretch across the edges of town on both sides of the river, with vacant houses, housing waiting lists and unemployed people needing work still coexisting. The dividend hasn’t happened for any of them and they have run out of any illusion that their day will come.
“I hear the same story I heard over 40 years ago.There is no work; no money; the young people are emigrating; the people running the city don’t care; the people running Stormont don’t care; nobody cares… somebody needs to do something to change this.
“I well remember finding myself on the platform in January 1969 when the students reached the Guildhall Square and saying to the crowd assembled ‘We have walked from the capital city of the North to the capital city of the North’s injustice’. That hasn’t changed either. Where after twenty years of the shared government at Stormont is the ‘maiden’ city’s fair share?
Where is the University that was shamefully and originally denied to Derry city over fifty years ago and remains denied? Where is the economic investment in the economy of the Shared North’s second city or did that quietly become Lisburn without anybody in the shared driving seat noticing? Where is the transport infrastructure that such a city needs? Where is the investment in rail, road and air? There has to be a better reason for building a road from Derry than hiding a toxic dump underneath it!
“But mostly, I am asking myself have Derry’s people changed? Are they now passively putting up with what they keep telling me on almost every doorstep is just a new generation of economic exclusion, political ineptitude & community corruption? Surely not? If at first you don’t succeed, you certainly can’t lie down or you will be trampled on. If you take my advice, and you might, you need to elect Eamonn McCann to the NI assembly. Eamon won’t tell you to leave it to him until the next election. He will be urging you to hold him to account, to join him inside and outside it the corridors of power challenging and changing the unacceptable
When this election is over, I will head home over the Glenshane Pass via a visit to the ancient Prehen Wood. The bluebells should be blossoming. Time the plain people of Derry got a chance to blossom, too. Go on, vote McCann and make it happen.”