As a Derry man, I am delighted that our city has been given the honour of receiving Michael D. Higgins on his first visit as President of Ireland outside of Dublin.
Over the past 30 years Michael D. Higgins has been to the fore in the transformation of Galway into one of the most dynamic and popular centres for the creative arts in modern Ireland. Not only has this brought badly needed employment and year long visitors to Galway, but it has been at the core of the regeneration and renewed self-confidence of the whole Galway region.
As we all know the North West has seen little benefit from either the so called Celtic Tiger or the Peace Dividend. We are assured that thousands of new jobs have been brought to Northern Ireland. However, as yet there is little or no sign of them in Derry and we must assume that they remain concentrated in the area east of the Bann; the more things change the more they stay the same.
Beyond industrialization - given the high intellectual and artistic repute of so many of its citizens – the future of Derry must rest on its own record of achievement and above all in its progressive development as a European centre of culture, learning and peace.
The City of Culture initiative in 2013 provides the opportunity to rebrand and relaunch Derry in this sense as the first step in a new phase of renewal and recovery. In addition to once-off projects and special celebrations, the real challenge for the year will be to establish clearly the outline framework for a long term supportive cultural infrastructure.
This must include an autonomous self sustaining university, related english language and other high-level specialised teaching institutes, together with internationally visible centres of Irish heritage and artistic excellence.
Accordingly, I hope that the visit of President Higgins will inspire the leadership of our city to follow the good example of Galway and work with imagination and vigour for the full and urgent exploitation of Derry’s natural advantages, i.e. the artistic and intellectual gifts of our fellow-citizens, our strong sense of community and international bonding and the beauty, romance and extraordinary history of our seaborne inheritance.
(former Ambassador of Ireland).