How free is ‘Free Derry’?

James Whoriskey

There’s a fascinating story on the front page of the Derry Journal this morning. It goes to the heart of one the issues raised by the public meet up at the Cafe del Mondo yesterday: just how free is Free Derry?

In fact Journal story is something of bureaucratic row over the siting of a poster just behind Free Derry Corner. The miscreant, according to Sinn Fein, is Eamonn McCann and his People Before Profit organisation who whacked his posters up on the free standing board behind the wall, where Sinn Fein normally have their election posters.

The Journal lays out the bones of the conflict in two short paragraphs:

Eamonn McCann has claimed that Sinn Féin have told him to take down by tomorrow afternoon an election mural at the back of Free Derry Corner on the Lecky Road.

However, Sinn Féin have said it had already booked the space in agreement with a committee who look after the wall in order to erect its own election poster.

Ironically, McCann was instrumental in having the wall painted in the first place back in 1969, the slogan borrowed from the University of Berkeley, where protesting students had proclaimed “You are now entering Free Berkeley.”

The wall has become not only an icon of radical Derry, but something of a mirror for the changing attitudes of its citizens. The free standing board plays host to a number of internationally facing political concerns, womens issues, and most controversially, a few years back, when the wall itself was painted pink.

Now, McCann told the Journal that “…he was unaware of any formal booking procedures, and claimed that his election workers had agreed with people usually involved with the wall that his banner could go up.”

And further:

I received a text telling me to take down the poster by Wednesday lunchtime or it would be taken down It is a community facility. It is not their wall or their area. They have claimed more public space than any other party and now they want the wall as well.

Apparently there is a committee which organises who can display what and when. Except no one seems to know who this committee is, or what it’s protocols are. Strangely McCann himself, who has been engaged with community activist groups, including the Bloody Sunday Trust, seems to know nothing about it either.

So, it has to be asked, how do you follow a protocol when apparently even Eamonn McCann does not know it even exists? Or, to raise a more general question, is it possible to be ‘free’ without ‘openness’?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty