Derry Trades Union Council Chair, Liam Gallagher, has urged workers and trade unionists to lobby hard for the installation of a fitting memorial to Derry’s ‘Factory Girls’.
He was speaking after meeting a deputation of former shirt factory workers who are fighting to have Derry City & Strabane District Council properly recognise their contribution to the city’s history and economic development.
“In many ways the history of Derry and its growth is linked to cottage industry in Derry and Donegal which led to the first purpose built shirt factory in the world.
“Around that history is interwoven a legacy of shared women’s struggle to raise their family and build communities in more austere times,” said the leading trade unionist.
Last month DC&SDC decided to commission a new £90,000 monument to the ‘Factory Girls’ and scrap plans for the placement of a largely completed art work by the Dublin sculptor Louise Walsh in Harbour Square.
Back in 2006 Ms. Walsh was commissioned by the Department for Communities’ (DfC) predecessor department, the Department of Social Development (DSD), to complete the work at the King Street roundabout. However, due to an inability to secure planning permission for that location Harbour Square was considered as an alternative but both DfC and DC&SDC have baulked at estimates that it will take another £244,000 to erect Ms. Walsh’s sculpture outside the Guildhall bringing the total cost to £330,000.
DC&SDC has thus decided to commission a new sculpture at a reduced cost.
Mr. Gallagher said it was disappointing that the original process has been scrapped.
“Louise worked diligently with enormous effort and creativity to record and understand the Derry factory workers’ story and created a piece of sculpture which symbolised the shift factory story,” he said.
“Unfortunately all her efforts and the efforts of the factory workers were not reciprocated by the planners,” he added.
The DTUC chair referred to Ms. Walsh’s account of the saga that was printed in the ‘Journal’ on Friday and said anyone reading her article would be “appalled at the way she was treated by both the Council and DSD”.
Mr. Gallagher remarked: “The situation now is that the Council have abandoned the original commission and have committed to advertising for a new project and have invited Louise to apply which is a final insult to her and one which leave many in the city very angry.
“It is proposed that the new project will be time bound but there is little confidence in the assurance given the debacle which has played out since 2005.
“DTUC are calling on all unions to now get behind the Factory Women campaign and we ask every branch and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“To lobby to have this project completed.
“We are also calling on DCSDC to publicly acknowledge the great work that Louise Walsh produced and to apologise to her for the way she was treated.”