Factory Girls artist led ‘a merry dance’

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A Dublin artist says she has been “led a merry dance” by the Department for Social Development.

Sculptor Louise Walsh was commissioned by DSD eight years ago to design a tribute to mark the significance of the shirt factory girls in the history of Derry.

However, the site chosen for the piece at King Street roundabout had no planning permission and permission was subsequently denied due to safety concerns raised by Road Service. Planning permission was then sought for a redesigned work at the rear of the Guildhall, at the request of DSD. However permission has not been granted after several years. As a result more than thousands of pounds worth of artwork now lies in an engineering yard.

The artist says a redesign of the project would push the original budget of £90,000 to over £150,000 and she fears those costs won’t be met.

“I can see no end to this, I’ve been led a merry dance by the DSD. I’ve been working unpaid and without any expenses on the resdesigned project for the rear of the Guildhall and because the original work was specifically designed for the space at King Street roundabout.

“I started this project before any development at Ebrington, the Peace Bridge, Mute Meadows and the Guildhall refurbishment.

“If there had been a will for the celebration of the shirt factory workers then the sculpture would have been up long before now. I can’t do anything, I feel I’ve done my best . . . I’m committed to the shirt factory women, think they are amazing but I don’t see the will.”

DSD spokesperson said efforts were made to find a suitable alternative site for the sculpture. “A number of options were explored, including sites at or adjacent to the location of former shirt factories, but the artist felt that a site behind the Guildhall was the only option which was prominent and prestigious enough to meet the purpose of paying tribute to the factory workers,” they said.

DSD said it intends to meet with Derry City Council and the artist to discuss whether the sculpture can be reworked to be located behind the Guildhall, depending on planning permission, or to locate it elsewhere. The spokesperson added that the department they would examine other options to commemorate the role of the factory girls through another piece of artwork separately commissioned.

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin said in the last week that it became clear that there are issues over additional funding for the project. However, she said the “battle is not over” to have the sculpture completed and erected. She said she had spoken to the DSD Minister’s office on the matter.

She added, however, that it would be “beyond belief” that DSD would commission the work for the site without prior discussion on planning issues.