After Gregory…

It would be presumptuous and counterproductive to play down the force of Gregory’s case. But where do we go from here? The politics of grievance needs to be replaced. But with what? With a sometimes bruising but always mutual frankness for a start, I suggest. Gregory is good at the bruising but what about the mutuality?

In Derry the unionist loss needs to be better understood by both sides. It would be better if it were not expressed so polemically. It might then be better heard. The town I loved so well so long ago before the Troubles seemed a unionist place with a hidden Catholic majority. Some of the change was organic – the eventual replacement of local majority Protestant businesses by multiples, the natural spread of the people to the north and across the river. But in between times, I don’t doubt that the IRA’s campaign was aimed at destroying what they saw as Protestant dominance and at driving Protestants out . It would help if in one of his bouts of appalling frankness Martin McGuinness found the words to admit this. Or will the groping towards dealing with the dissidents put it on hold?

A basic task now is to convert the symbolism expressed so physically in Derry from a curse to a blessing. The choice is still between Mostar -on -Foyle or hands across the divide. Mostar has a new bridge too. Derry’s majority nationalists have gone about this with imaginative pragmatism and have embraced the British, Planter and even army legacies. But they should dread softly on unionist susceptibilties. They are late comers to this. In turn unionists would be better advised not to gloat, feel threatened or indulge in the pretence that we are all good unionists now. What is needed are those rare qualities – tact and sharing . If this is a new accommodation with the Union,  it were better not to  exult in it, or presume on it too much. Better for  unionists to make their answering  accommodation, in kind.

The aims of UK City of Culture need to be achieved on a self conscious and transparent cross community basis that also stretches well beyond the narrow confines of the city. The Londonderry Feis (for all) should be revived alongside Feis Doire Colmcille the following week.( for all too I’d hope in time) . The English choral tradition as well as the Roman and the Irish . Where else would they be segregated these days?

One key aim is to encourage the young to ” tell a new story”. What will this be? Hopefully much of it global, generational, edgy and – God let’s hope so – actually new.

 Back on the heritage theme,  young nationalists have been learning about the Planter. Have unionists been learning about the Gael and do the two debate their conclusions? Note that the first bishop listed in St Columb’s Cathedral is “Caencomhrae at Maghera 927 AD”.  Not something to set the heart on fire perhaps, but it is a reminder of a faded shared tradition.

The churches of course have been far too tentative. Too fearful that  too much contact would alienate their own and make things worse. Vigorous risk-taking engagement is long overdue. How amazing that a visit to the Bloody Sunday memorial by the local Protestant church leaders should be regarded as such a landmark. So what next after the first gesture- has anybody heard? Let not it be wasted by both sides. Why not hold a great conference on the social mission of all the churches in these islands as part of City of Culture?

On the development of Ebrington Barracks in the Waterside, a site the size of the walled city, it’s essential that this be seen not as nationalist encroachment but genuinely shared space. Will the social housing , local shops and other facilities envisaged be planned as mixed? This can only be achieved by the closest co-operation.

I’m no longer surprised that so many people in such a wee region know so little about Derry and have never even been there. The ignorance is part of the grievance both sides in the city share – indeed they flaunt it. The penny needs to drop that they’d do better to hang together and convert their shared sense of grievance into a dynamic to achieve. I hope Gregory with his considerable gifts, energy – and his mandate- will pitch in, now that he’s got all that off his chest.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London