Jim Clifford has earned the respect of people across the board as one of those councillors who have rolled up their sleeves and worked with and for their community over the years.
Along with a number of other councillors, the veteran SDLP Creggan Councillor retired from public office with the dissolution of Derry City Council this week at the age of 78. And as a testament to his contribution at grass roots level, he was singled out for high praise from all corners at the council’s final meeting.
Cards and messages of support from well wishers have also been arriving at his home in the Iniscarin Road area of Creggan.
“I’ve seen seven Town Clerks and 24 Mayors,” Jim said. “It’s been emotional leaving but time waits fo now man and I’m 78.
“I have to thank my wife, Patsy and my four daughters Martina, Anne-Marie, Patricia and Roisin and I also want to thank my colleagues in the SDLP for selecting me and standing by me, and last but not least I want to thank the people of Creggan for electing me and I will still continue to work for them.
“I haven’t gone away you know!”
Jim moved into the Creggan estate with his wife and young family 40 years ago, but his first home was at 11 Bridge Street in the city cente.
“There were seven boys and seven girls in our family. My six brothers died before they were 50. My father died young as well. I have only one sister left and she lives ni Belfast. Growing up we had two rooms for the 16 of us. There were outdoor toilets, you washed outside, we were living with mice because of the old cellars in that area.
“But there was very little anti-social behaviour in those days. You were in the house by 11 at night. People hadn’t got much in the old times but they were a lot happier.”
Jim was a pupil at St Patrick’s Boys’ School at the top of Bridge Street but like all young fellows back then, he had to leave school at 14 and his first job was delivering papers round the shops for Eason’s on John Street.
He also sold the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ and ‘Ireland’s Saturday Night’ papers, and would later work in the BSR factory, Hutchinsons and Courtaulds.
He attributes his entry into political life to one man: John Hume.
“I was in the Derry Labour Party at one time and then went to the SDLP and I am there 27 years and I met some great people- John Tierney, Pat Devine, Mark Durkan, Willie O’Connell, George Peoples, Raymond McClean.
“The people of Creggan were a pleasure to work with. I loved helping them- if you got a young couple a house you could see the joy it brought to them. You could see what it meant.
“My memories include the fight against the Post Office moving from Central Drive to Rath Mor.
“And during the Troubles you were called out at all hours. There were people who left Creggan then and a lot of people have tried to get back in. There’s a waiting list now.”
The cordial relations and good humoured banter (which Jim has been a big contributor to over the years) on show at that final Derry City Council meeting was a far cry from the atmosphere which existed when Jim entered the council chamber after joining the SDLP 27 years ago.
“When I joined the council, we hadn’t got the local council building and most of the council staff was crowded into the Guildhall and different wee offices around the town.
“Things that stand out in my memory are when Gregory Campbell chained himself to his seat in the council chamber and the police had to come to deal with it, and then there was a DUP councillor, a Minister who used to throw toilet paper at the councillors.
“It’s far better today. There might be a bit of banter but it’s not like years ago when sometimes it nearly came to fisticuffs. It was tough but as long as you got results.
“It’s in a better place now. Relations are better. There are no toilet rolls hitting you in the back of the head!”
Jim said Derry has “changed enormously” over the years: “The town now is ready as a base for tourists. It looks great. It’s a far better looking city than Belfast.”
Outside of politics, Jim has also been a member of the St Vincent de Paul’s Creggan branch or the last 26 years and he said there is no sign of the need for charity diminishing.
“There is big, big need with all these cutbacks. We are inundated.”
He said that the new supercouncil and the Executive needed to ensure that Derry is given its fair share of resources going forward.
“We need the A5 and the A6,” he said. “We need the Old Railway Station converted into something decent instead of the wee phonebox station that is there.
“We need the Magee expansion and we need employment.
“These have to be delivered. We have to have an even chance to compete and at the minute we are not getting it.
“Hopefully the groundwork has already been laid and they will take it up now and carry it forward.”
As well as having a lot more time to concentrate of following the fortunes of Derry City FC and Liverpool FC, Jim said he has no plans to stop working for the community.
“The people of Creggan are the salt of the earth,” he said. “They are great people and I have loved living here and I wouldn’t leave it. There is a great community spirit and I’ll still be available for the people of Creggan.”