Bridging the gap on a historic day for Derry

John Hume admires the newly opened Peace Bridge. (2606SL19) Photo: Stephen Latimer
John Hume admires the newly opened Peace Bridge. (2606SL19) Photo: Stephen Latimer

The crowds came in their thousands to watch the opening of Derry’s iconic new Peace Bridge.

The bridge was officially declared open by EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn who said one of the key objectives of the European Union was to bring people together to live in peace.

“The European Commission is particularly committed to helping the people of this region as they work towards the goal of lasting peace and prosperity,” he said.

“I believe that the Peace Bridge will help further this goal for the people of Derry/Londonderry.

“It will encourage greater levels of cross-community integration and usher in a new period of peace and reconciliation for the city,”

The official opening party walked across the bridge from the Cityside to the Waterside after 600 schoolchildren had crossed the river.

Once the formalities were completed the bridge was opened up to members of the public to cross.

Huge queues formed on both sides of the river with people anxious to be among the first to walk over the £14m structure.

John Hume said the opening was a momentous occasion for this city.

“I was very heavily involved in European funding for the Foyle Bridge, the second bridge,” he said.

“I must say to have a bridge for people just to walk is a great thing for this city. It is very very well designed.

“I have never ever seen such an audience in the city of Derry before.

“When you look at both sides of this river and see thousands and thousands of people here welcoming the opening of this bridge.”

Mr Hahn was joined in the official party by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland and mayor Maurice Devenney.

“As this bridge sweeps across the river Foyle it draws not just our eyes but our hearts and our minds and reminds us of the journey of peace that we have all taken together over the last number of years,” Mr Kenny said.

“The events in Belfast of recent days, and the despicable murder of Ronan Kerr in Omagh, show us all that we can never afford to take that peace for granted.

“We must continue to work together to ensure that isolated evildoers do not succeed in undermining what has been so hard won.

“Today, we are more united than ever in that historic task.

“This is a truly proud day for Derry, a day when we all look firmly to the future.

“In troubled and tragic times, this city demonstrated a real spirit, a drive to overcome adversity.

“The advent of peace has unleashed that spirit to achieve wonderful progress.

“Today is a huge and historic milestone on the path to a new future.

“And I know there is so much more to come.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the bridge would be a catalyst for change that will help transform the city and the local community.

“While the bridge alone will not solve all our problems, it gives us a real opportunity for change,” he said.

“Change cannot happen without the full support of us all.

“So it is up to you, me, my colleagues in the Executive and the Assembly to continue to work positively together to build upon the good work that has already been done -recognising that differences still exist but respecting those differences.”

Peter Robinson added that the bridge would help usher in a new era in the city.

“The Bridge extends the reach of the Waterside into the city centre encouraging the creation of a larger city - a shared city, a welcoming city, a city that is moving forward with a very real sense of pride, an abundance of talent and a lot of confidence and hope for the future,” he said.

“The Peace Bridge has a significant role to play as one of our most valuable cultural assets, promising to draw tourists in huge numbers that will guarantee economic benefits.”

The Mayor Maurice Devenney said the opening of the Peace Bridge was a significant occasion for everyone in the city.

“The Peace Bridge will bring our communities together to help develop tourism, regeneration and good relations.

“The Peace Bridge reflects the positive way in which our city is moving forward as we prepare to celebrate our unique history, culture and heritage in preparation for the UK City of Culture 2013.”