Despite opposition from three unionist councillors, approval was given for Derry City and Strabane council to provide financial support to the tune of £50,000 for a major event planned by the Bloody Sunday Trust to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in January 2022.
The overall event costs are estimated to be around £150,000 with an estimated request of £50,000 for costs from Council.
The Bloody Sunday Trust approached Council about ways they could support the milestone event of the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
The report, presented by Council’s Head of Culture, Aeidin McCarter to Derry City and Strabane’s Business and Culture Committee, noted that the main event, Beyond The Silence, will be held on Sunday, January 30, 2022. This will be a large-scale event attracting in excess of 7,000 attendees that will mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and events since that day.
The focus will be on the lives of the 14 civil rights marchers who were murdered that day, and those wounded, but will also include a dedication to everyone killed during the conflict.
It is envisaged that there will be a significant international media presence at the event along with a number of dignitaries and VIP’s.
The event will begin in William Street at the same time the shooting began, with a symbolic event. The families will then proceed to Guildhall Square along a route animated to commemorate the events of Bloody Sunday and its aftermath. Part of this animation will remain in place for a number of days after the event. The majority of the crowd will be gathered in Guildhall Square/Waterloo Square waiting for the families.
SDLP Rory Farrell described Bloody Sunday as ‘one of the seminal events in Irish history’.
He said: “The 50th anniversary of that terrible day is six months away and it’s right and it’s proper that council makes a financial contribution for events to remember and commemorate the atrocity.
“14 innocent sons of Derry were murdered by British troops whilst campaigning for civil rights and their families have campaigned for justice ever since. Justice that this current Tory government is intent on avoiding. Its amnesty proposal is an affront to victims.
“They want the easy way out, they want to brush it under the carpet and their devious ways to circumvent justice cannot be allowed to happen.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy put on record Sinn Féin’s continued support for the Bloody Sunday families.
She added: “I, like others, have met with the Bloody Sunday Trust to discuss their plans and I have to say it is a powerful programme and it is impressive the amount of work they have already put into it and it will have huge international interest.
“It was a hugely significant day in our history and it has indeed shaped our future and where we are today and we absolutely should be supporting it.”
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin gave his support to the recommendation saying: “Bloody Sunday changed Derry’s history, it changed history in the north of Ireland, it changed Irish history, it was an international event and is now part of international history but it’s not something that is in the past because there has not yet been justice for the families.
“The 50th anniversary should be properly marked in our City and people should have the opportunity to learn about Bloody Sunday and welcome council helping to facilitate that.”
DUP Alderman David Ramsey said his party wouldn’t be in a position to support these recommendations.
He added: “We need more information on how this event will be inclusive based on our history in our City, our legacy and how we move on as a people. I think it is very important that we find how we can be inclusive considering the many families that suffered in this area who lost their lives in the Troubles.”
Alderman Ramsey also had an issue with the Robert Ballagh painting of the Bloody Sunday event which is proposed that it will hang in the Guildhall.
“The Guildhall is a neutral space. How do we as a council make sure we are including all the victims of the Troubles in our City and District. This was not a one religion thing, a lot of people lost their lives from all religions.”
UUP Alderman Darren Guy said he had no problem with people marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, however, he had concerns about the amount of money council would be contributing.
“Everybody should be able to mark such significant events freely,” he said. “However, I do question the request for assistance of funding for this specific event from council of almost £50,000.
“£50,000 is almost 1% of our rates budget, a budget that many Members wanted to reduce to zero percent yet now back requests such as this when there are staffing issues in some departments which has already begun to affect council services.”
Independent Councillor Raymond Barr spoke passionately about the events of January 30, 1972.
“Bloody Sunday was quite simply an atrocity sanctioned at the highest level of British government. A delivered massacre designed to suppress the justified demand for equality and civil rights.
“This was a slaughter of innocents which impacted greatly on this City and the island of Ireland and reverberated throughout the world and received condemnation throughout the world and still does.
“As one who witnessed the attack on marchers and one who spoke with one of the victims shortly before his murder, I welcome this report and wholeheartedly support this recommendation.”
Independent Councillor Gary Donelly agreed saying: “Bloody Sunday was the deliberate, cold blooded murder of innocents and this significant anniversary needs to be marked.”
DUP Alderman Maurice Devenny referred to some of the comments made about the amnesty.
He said: “I have listened intently to some of the comments in and around the amnesty and once again all that’s coming across from republicans is that this protects British soldiers. When I look at that amnesty I see that it protects members of the IRA, it protects all those republican groups and all others who carried out atrocities across Northern Ireland and it sends out a very negative message to all those innocent victims.
“Our party has put on the record many, many times that wrong is wrong, it’s never right. I’m sure the members of the families who had loved ones killed on Bloody Sunday would agree with my comments that everyone is entitled to some justice and answers about who murdered their loved ones and why they were murdered. It’s the innocent victim who I’m thinking of.”
An attempt by UUP Councillor Derek Hussey to have the 50th anniversary of the murder of Winston Donnell, the first Ulster Defence Regiment soldier killed also marked by council was described by Cllr Duffy as ‘mischievious’ with Cllr Donnelly accusing the Alderman of trying to ‘lead us astray.’
Committee Chair Sinn Féin Councillor Conor Heaney refused to accept the proposal and the recommendation to approve the provisional financial commitment subject to an application to the major events fund; the provision of in kind advice and assistance from the various Council departments to enable the Bloody Sunday Trust to deliver the event and the locating of the Robert Ballagh painting in the Guildhall for a set period was approved with 8 votes for and 3 against.
The decision will go before the Full Council for ratification at the end of the month.