Financial aid approval for Bloody Sunday 50th anniversary event backed by Derry & Strabane Councillors

Despite opposition from three unionist aldermen, approval was given for Derry and Strabane Council to provide £50,000 for a major event planned by the Bloody Sunday Trust to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in January 2022.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 12:05 pm
Crowds gathered outside St Mary's Church, Creggan, February 1972 for Bloody Sunday funerals.

The overall event costs are estimated to be around £150,000 with an estimated request of £50,000 for costs from Council.

The Bloody Sunday Trust approached Council about ways they could support the milestone event of the 50th anniversary in 2022.

A report, presented by Council’s Head of Culture, Aeidin McCarter to Derry and Strabane’s Business and Culture Committee, noted that the main event, Beyond The Silence, will be held on Sunday, January 30, 2022. This will be a large-scale event attracting in excess of 7,000 attendees. The focus will be on the lives of the 14 civil rights marchers who were murdered that day and those wounded, but will also include a dedication to everyone killed during the conflict, with a number of dignitaries and VIPs attending.

The event will begin in William Street at the same time the shooting began. The families will then proceed to Guildhall Square along a route animated to commemorate the events of Bloody Sunday and its aftermath, part of which will remain in place for a number of days after the event. The majority of the crowd will be gathered in Guildhall Square/Waterloo Square waiting for the families.

Other planned events include a production in the Guildhall entitled ‘The White Handkerchief’ on January 15, led by the Playhouse but supported by the Guildhall; an International Conference in the Guildhall in June, 2022; the artist Robert Ballagh has also agreed to loan at no charge his painting of the events at Bloody Sunday to the City. The proposed location would be outside the Main Hall in the Guildhall opposite the Bloody Sunday interpretative area where it would be on display for up to six months from early January 2022. The painting would form part of the Guildhall and Tower Museum’s own programming relating to the anniversary.

SDLP Colr. Rory Farrell said: “The 50th anniversary of that terrible day is six months away and it’s right and it’s proper that council makes a financial contribution for events to remember and commemorate the atrocity. 14 innocent sons of Derry were murdered by British troops whilst campaigning for civil rights and their families have campaigned for justice ever since, justice that this current Tory government is intent on avoiding. Its amnesty proposal is an affront to victims.”

Sinn Féin Colr. Sandra Duffy said described the “powerful programme” as impressive and said it will garner “huge international interest”.

“It was a hugely significant day in our history and it has indeed shaped our future and where we are today and we absolutely should be supporting it.”

PBP Colr. Shaun Harkin gave his support to the recommendation saying: “Bloody Sunday changed Derry’s history, it changed history in the north of Ireland, it changed Irish history, it was an international event and is now part of international history but it’s not something that is in the past because there has not yet been justice for the families.

“The 50th anniversary should be properly marked in our City and people should have the opportunity to learn about Bloody Sunday and welcome council helping to facilitate that.”

DUP Alderman David Ramsey said his party wouldn’t be in a position to support these recommendations. He added: “We need more information on how this event will be inclusive based on our history in our City, our legacy and how we move on as a people.”

Alderman Ramsey also had an issue with the Robert Ballagh painting in the Guildhall. “The Guildhall is a neutral space. How do we as a council make sure we are including all the victims of the Troubles in our City and District?”

UUP Alderman Darren Guy said he had no problem with  people marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, however, he had concerns about the amount of money council would be contributing. “£50,000 is almost 1% of our rates budget, a budget that many Members wanted to reduce to zero percent yet now back requests such as this when there are staffing issues in some departments which has already begun to affect council services.”

Independent Colr. Raymond Barr said: “This was a slaughter of innocents which impacted greatly on this City and the island of Ireland and reverberated throughout the world and received condemnation throughout the world and still does.

“As one who witnessed the attack on marchers and one who spoke with one of the victims shortly before his murder, I welcome this report and wholeheartedly support this recommendation.”

Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly agreed saying: “Bloody Sunday was the deliberate, cold blooded murder of innocents and this significant anniversary needs to be marked.”

DUP Ald. Maurice Devenney said: “When I look at that amnesty I see that it protects members of the IRA, it protects all those republican groups and all others who carried out atrocities across Northern Ireland and it sends out a very negative message to all those innocent victims.

“Our party has put on the record many, many times that wrong is wrong, it’s never right. I’m sure the members of the families who had loved ones killed on Bloody Sunday would agree with my comments that everyone is entitled to some justice and answers about who murdered their loved ones and why they were murdered. It’s the innocent victim who I’m thinking of.”

The recommendation to approve the provisional financial commitment subject to an application to the major events fund; the provision of in kind advice and assistance from the various Council departments to the Bloody Sunday Trust and the locating of the Robert Ballagh painting in the Guildhall for a set period was approved with 8 votes for and 3 against.

The decision will go before the Full Council for ratification at the end of the month.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter