First there is a generational difference. Older people who came through the 1969 – 72 experience, many of whom moved across the river from the Cityside to the Waterside and further afield have vivid memories of that time and perceptions have been formed as a result of it. Then there is the younger generation who not only did not come through that personally but now live in a different environment and accordingly have a different perspective.
There have been a few publications and programmes which outlined the Unionist case in Londonderry. Two programmes broadcast by the BBC called “The River Crossing” in the 1980’s, another “The Exodus” in the last couple of years, also an excellent book entitled “Londonderry revisited” by Paul Kingsley, offered an insight into the Protestant experience at different times. A common theme in respect of each was the sense of outrage each elicited from the Nationalist / Republican political classes. It seems that Nationalists are at ease when being described in terms of being the most oppressed people but get very agitated when evidence emerges that portrays some of their number as the aggressor rather than the aggrieved.
Protestants have over the years been made to feel that they are not welcome in Londonderry. The ethos and makeup of the City, the sectarian violence, jobs almost exclusively for Nationalists, political decisions taken by the Nationalist dominated Council all combined to make Unionists feel their identity and culture were not welcome.
Nationalists / Republicans simply don’t get it. The continuing name change row is a case in point. Political nationalists say bluntly “We are the majority, the majority here call this place Derry so what’s the problem?” When Unionists then in response say “Ok, where unionists are in the majority does the same criteria apply?” and then there usually follows a convoluted diatribe about the evils of Unionism which supposedly justifies the negative response to the question. Cross community approaches requiring consent only apply for Nationalist minorities it seems!
Another analysis makes the point, there is the tendency now to devise a Derry/Londonderry moniker for the City’s name. This was true for the City of Culture bid and has been true on other occasions, if we turn to the name of the Council, the airport, the football or County gaelic team that nationalists support all of which have “Derry” in the title. No –one ever hears the airport called “City of Derry/Londonderry airport” I have never heard people going to Brandywell to support “Derry/Londonderry City FC” or heard Martin McGuinness express support for “County Derry/Londonderry” at Gaelic. This is proof again of the double standards that apply where nationalists are concerned.
In 2010 Nationalists would love to present Londonderry as a City at ease with itself acknowledging and accepting the diverse traditions of all it’s people. The people who live in the Fountain area under regular attack can testify to the irony of that boast.
Sinn Fein politicians in other parts of Northern Ireland complain of Unionist controlled councils who don’t vote a Republican in as Mayor, and this is usually cited as the distance that some Unionists have to travel to offer equality. In Nationalist dominated Londonderry we Unionists get to have a Mayor every fourth year but the disadvantage, disdain and detrimental treatment still goes on. Have thousands of Roman Catholics moved out of Castlereagh or Craigavon because there hasn’t been a shinner Mayor? Of course not. They haven’t moved out full stop. In Londonderry Unionists are experiencing the start of the third generation of their people moving across the river.
There is now the opportunity for a new start. The brit awards hopefully will come to the North West as a result of the City of Culture award. The Brits welcoming the Brits, or those of us who are British and Unionist being accepted as equal in this, our shared United Kingdom City of Culture!