Bloody Sunday Memorial Row: “This is nothing to do with politics whatsoever…”

A row has broken out in Londonderry over the design of a new Bloody Sunday memorial window in the Guildhall. The window was commissioned, at a maximum cost of £17,000, in May 2014 to replace the previous memorial window, which was installed in 1986, following complaints from some of the families of the Bloody Sunday victims.

A spokesperson for Derry City Council said they had listened carefully to the views of the Bloody Sunday families. “To this end Derry City Council have previously commissioned a re- design of the existing window,” the spokesperson said. In its tender instructions to companies interested in designing and installing the new window, the council has given guidelines on what should be included in it. “It is important that the event of Bloody Sunday is represented within the artwork via a scene or scenes which do not cause anguish to the families involved,” the tender document states.

The initial Derry City Council invitation to tender suggested that the installation would be completed in June 2014. That has proven to be an overly optimistic time-frame in which to agree a design, manufacture, and install the window.

A disagreement has emerged between some of the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday in regards to the design of one of the four panels, and that disagreement would appear to echo the split that emerged in 2011 when there was an attempt to bring the annual Bloody Sunday March to an end.  From the Slugger archive

The Irish News story quotes family member John Kelly, who says that Bloody Sunday weekend should continue but that this should be the last year for the march. [added emphasis] He says,

This should be a march of celebration. It should be a victory march celebrating the victory over injustice.

And we know what happened next.

The march has been organised in the face of a disputed decision last year by the Bloody Sunday Committee and a majority of the campaigning families to declare that the 2011 march would be the last, given the ‘vindication’ of their campaign in the findings of the Saville Inquiry. More than a hundred relatives of those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday had publicly backed the move to bring an end to the annual march.

The singing will be led by relatives of 19-year-old William Nash, one of the thirteen people killed on Bloody Sunday. His father was wounded when he went to his son’s aid. William’s sisters, Kate and Linda have organised the march, describing the decision to abandon the annual protest as ‘premature’. In 2011 they also rejected outright an offer of compensation from the MOD.

Details of this year march are online here.  The dispute over the march contributed to the resignation of Eamonn McCann from the Bloody Sunday Trust.

At Derry City Council‘s January meeting this year, on Tuesday 28th, councillors rejected a Sinn Féin attempt to defer the matter of the new Bloody Sunday memorial window further, and agreed an SDLP motion to install three of four panels as designed, with a view to redesigning and installing the fourth panel at a later stage.  From the Derry Journal report

Sinn Fein Councillor Barney O’Hagan said various councillors have tried to assist in finding a solution to this issue over a protracted period of time.

“Bloody Sunday was a very significant and dark day in the history of this city. It impacted on every citizens in this city and others further afield,” adding that those events had shaped history, and shaped the thinking and actions of many who were there that day.

“It is fitting that a fitting mural to those killed is installed in what is the civic building for this area. It is unfortunate there is a disagreement in the design of the window ad so given that there still isn’t a consensus I think it is wrong to make a proposal here in the absence of that final agreement because I know there is a large section of families that wouldn’t be comfortable with what has been proposed. I would suggest maybe that the SDLP consider supporting deferring this matter further until we get the issue resolved in a way that is satisfactory to all involved rather than do anything that would leave people feeling hurt in any way. That has to be avoided at all costs. I would suggest we defer the matter further and make further efforts to get a resolution.”

He later added that going the way of the SDLP proposal would be to “go contrary to the wishes and views of the majority of the families affected”.

“It is in that context that we in Sinn Fein couldn’t support that proposal,” he said.

In the absence of that consensus I think the most sensible thing course of action would be to defer the matter further, To do anything else is to come down on one side of a difference of opinion.” [added emphasis]

According to SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver

Considering the families clear distress, we proposed to go ahead with the three agreed panels and omit the background of the fourth panel which was in dispute – with a view to achieving a future amicable agreement on how this final panel should look.

A full deferral of the entire window as proposed by Sinn Fein was not an option that the SDLP could support as this simply delays the same debate which the super council would likely have for months, if not years. These families have suffered enough delays waiting for closure from numerous bodies – they deserve action from their Council on the agreed aspects of the window and not further delay. [added emphasis]

By featuring only the deceased and leaving the background of the fourth panel a ‘blank canvass’ this allows space for further discussion of what can not only best reflect the story of the past, but also possibly be reflective of future aspirations. This is an opportunity to attempt to reach agreement on the design and depiction of the final disputed fourth panel without hindering and delaying the already agreed elements of the window.

The Derry Journal report adds

Despite a five minute adjournment, to discuss the matter, the two nationalist parties failed to reach an agreement, and during a vote, Colr. Diver’s proposal was carried with the support of all SDLP Councillors present by a margin of 12 to the eight Sinn Fein Councillors present who all voted against. Unionist councillors did not take part in the vote.

A spokeswoman for Derry City Council said after the meeting: “Earlier this month, members of the Development Committee agreed to appoint a mediator to consult with the families in an effort to get a resolution to the issue before today’s Full Council meeting, however despite all efforts the two sides could not be reconciled. [added emphasis]

“Following a vote taken at a meeting of Full Council today, the majority of members voted in favour of the SDLP’s proposal to explore the option of installing three of the panels, with a view to redesigning and installing the fourth panel at a later stage, after further consultation with all the families to gain full consensus on a design.”

The last BBC report notes those objecting to the window design

Kate Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said she was one of several families to object to the image.

“The fourth panel has images of three of the victims on it and in the background there is a scene from the 15 June 2010, scenes of joy.

“Our contention is that it does not belong on a memorial window where we are depicting a tragedy that happened in 1972.

“It is not the place for those kind of scenes. It’s inappropriate.”

And, in the same BBC report, another familiar name leads the reaction to the Council decision

John Kelly, from the Bloody Sunday Trust, said the objection was “embarrassing”.

Mr Kelly said he and five other families will remove their support for the entire project if the window is altered.

Mr Kelly added

“This is nothing to do with politics whatsoever. I approached Derry City Council with other family members to replace the previous window, which was grotesque.

“All the families had an opportunity to look at the window. Afterwards people came and objected, it was taken on board and it’s been changed since then.

There’s no jubilation within that picture. This is a beautiful piece of art on behalf of the victims of Bloody Sunday.

“If they want to put up an altered picture then I have informed Derry City Council that I want my brother Michael’s face removed from the window. Five other families will do the same.” [added emphasis]

Fortunately, the BBC have provided an image of the contentious panel from the window design.

Contentious Bloody Sunday Memorial window

I’m not sure what John Kelly, of the Bloody Sunday Trust, was looking at, but there is clearly jubilation within that picture.  And, it has to be said, it’s hardly “a beautiful piece of art”.

However, the previously linked Derry Now report from May 2014 does note that the original tender instructions for the design does include the following remit

“The sense of victory for truth, justice vindication of the families’ cause, as well as the liberating effect on the people of Derry, should be conveyed within the artwork,” the tender document says.

It concludes: “Generally, while the story of Bloody Sunday is steeped in loss, tragedy, denial and injustice, there is also a great sense of personal pride, victory and achievement among the families and others.  It is therefore important that the main impression conveyed by the art piece is an uplifting one i.e. a triumph of ordinary people over adversity and injustice.” [added emphasis]

So, it filled the brief… [and tried to draw a line under the campaign? – Ed]  You might very well think that…

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  • sean treacy

    Pete ,your concern for the victims of bloody Sunday really stands out in this piece and we all know you would never use the issue to pursue your anti republican agenda!

  • Practically_Family

    Not a single Para in it! Disgrace.

  • Ernekid

    I find it hard to care about this 43 years later

  • As I’ve said before, comprehension is sadly neglected in our education system.
    Read again, sean. Slowly. And all the way to the end.

  • The post isn’t about what happened 43 years ago. It’s about what’s happening now.

  • chrisjones2

    People in Derry cant agree with each other? I am shocked and amazed!

    I assume the maximum cost of £17,000 has now risen to about half a million.

    Has anyone reached for their (legally aided) lawyer yet? It has to be possible to work a Human Rights challenge somewhere. Strasbourg here we come!!

  • sk

    Perhaps they should sit in a caravan on public wasteland until they get their way?

    Though that would cost a damn sight more than half a million

  • Dan

    What with the frequent IRA bombs in the city, you’d like to think the new windows are shatter proof.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    This is really about the uneasy relationship between art and politics, publicly commissioned work and real private creativity. Neither the older window nor the new window could be called stimulating art in any meaningful sense, both are ugly jobs prepared for a group of concerned, but in the final analysis uncreative people, to a fit a constraining brief. While it may be described as “nothing to do with politics” it is also nothing to do with art.

    It would certainly be possible for someone with real creativity to engage with the tragedy of the event and to make something sonorous and moving that might carry something of what the community experienced to future generations, however neither the older nor the current designs will ever do that. And someone with the creativity to envisage something that truly expressed Bloody Sunday would already have had their creative response. As someone who has been involved in “art to order”, in promos, TV series and commercials, I’ve found that little of what is done to match the ideas of those commissioning such things truly stands the test of time. This photo-montage is going to be no exception.

  • Kevin Breslin

    This isn’t a Sinn Féin vs. SDLP issue, if either party thinks they can make capital at the other’s expense they’ll quickly find they’ll lose track of what matters here, which are the families.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    All too true, Kevin, “if either party thinks they can make capital at the other’s expense they’ll quickly find they’ll lose track of what matters here, which are the families.”

    People are all too quick to abstract things that are in their essence composed of very human suffering.

  • chrisjones2

    Only if they were regularly attacked