The world must be told that Derry is trouble free to ensure that international media coverage of loyalist flag protests do not destroy the city’s tourism potential, a MLA has said.
Following a peaceful flags protest outside the newly opened office Sinn Fein MEP Martin Anderson on Wednesday evening, calls were made to ensure that Derry is not “tarred with the same brush” as Belfast.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan warned that Loyalist flag protests will have a knock on effect for Derry, its economy and this year’s City of Culture celebrations.
Speaking to the ‘Derry Journal’, the MLA said: “I think it is inevitable that the trouble in Belfast which has been reported around the world will result in tourists who had planned on coming to Northern Ireland, even from the South to the North, being inclined to change their travel plans.
“Derry has a great opportunity this year to increase our tourist numbers but people on the other side of the world aren’t going to think that the trouble is in Belfast and not in Derry.
“People in England, Scotland and Wales will not make that distinction, in fact I doubt if people in the Republic will even make that distinction.”
“There is definitely going to be an impact on the number of tourists visiting Derry. It is completely beyond our control and in fact overshadows any possible damage that dissident activity could have caused.”
Around 40 protestors blocked Spencer Road outside Ms Anderson’s European constituency office, just hours after it was officially opened. Some carried union flags and banners reading ‘stop the ethnic cleansing of our British identity’.
Ms Anderson said she supported their right to be there but vowed not to be intimidated by Loyalist protesters in Derry.
The picket was part of the ongoing wave of loyalist protests following Belfast City Council’s decision to restrict the number of days on which the Union flag is flown from the City Hall. Ms Anderson told the ‘Journal’: “I am not perturbed. People are entitled to protest peacefully.”
The Sinn Fein MEP added: “I am there to represent all the people of the North, regardless of their tradition and I will continue to do so.”
The protesters demonstrated outside the Sinn Fein MEP’s Waterside office for less than an hour before moving to the Glendermott Road which was closed to traffic while a white line picket was held.
One protestor said the demonstration was held there because of what the office symbolised. “It is a furtherance of Sinn Fein’s foothold in the Waterside. There has been 40 plus years of ethnic cleansing in the city side and this is just a furtherance of that. Our protests are about more than the union flag. Our culture is being eroded away.”
The protester said unionist political leaders who are calling for the protests to be taken off the street are not listening to the people they represent.
“The political forum has failed us and the political leaders have failed us. We have seen our identity and our culture ruthlessly stripped from us time and time again. We are not going to try and cause splits because we want unionist unity but we want the leaders who will lead us right and defend us in the political forum. We will protest until we get that.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney said that the Unionist forum that met yesterday at Stormont will not solve the problem of mutual respect for people’s national identity and culture.
“Unionists talking to themselves will not solve the problem of mutual respect for people’s national identity and culture.
“That can only come when representatives from the whole community sit down together. There needs to be an open discussion on how people’s Irishness and Britishness can be respected and valued. Equality, parity of esteem and mutual respect needs to be at the core of any move forward on identity and symbols. Unionism needs to face the reality that the North has changed and will continue to change. Any attempts to hark back to a one-sided past will only sow more confusion among unionists and loyalists,” he said.