Saturday, 9 August 2014

Symbiosis!!!


I sat through a public meeting  in Derry on July 25th in relation to plans to modernise and extend the Museum of Free Derry (Bloody Sunday Museum). From the outset it was stated by the organisers that they supported the museum and its expansion, but had concerns over the amended plans. It would have been evident to any objective individual at the meeting that the community members in attendance embraced the design presented to the community in 2010.

The amended plans will see the removal or possible relocation of a local business as well as obscuring the iconic Civil Rights Mural which many, including myself consider to be inextricably linked to Bloody Sunday in that the Civil Rights movement organised the march that saw the brutal savagery meted out against the people of Derry by the Parachute Regiment in 1972.

The amended plans include the removal or as it has been termed 'realignment' of a ramp leading up to the flats, this despite it's huge historical significance in relation to Bloody Sunday. The plans also include the erection of what appears to be a covered walkway.  Liam Wray whose brother Jim was murdered that day took shelter on the ramp (above) whilst Alexander Nash left the safety of the ramp amidst heavy gunfire in an attempt to rescue his son and was wounded as his son lay fatally injured.

Having previously expressed an interest in the situation I have been contacted by a number of people concerned about comments that have been appearing on social media.

It would seem that Donnacha McNelis of the Bogside Residents group is very interested despite his lack of attendance at public meeting. In one comment in relation to the contentious memorial garden which is alleged to include British soldiers Donnacha had this to say ..... “I don't know if that is what is being proposed. However, on a personal basis, I believe that a place, a garden or whatever to remember all those who died in the conflict whether civilians or combatants is worthy of consideration.”


Donnacha just like everyone else is entitled to his view, I respect that totally but on personal level fail to grasp his use of the word 'combatants' when referring to British soldiers. These are the same 'combatants' who murdered innocent civilians in this town. Furthermore the location of the Bloody Sunday Museum is where some of these 'combatants' murdered innocent civilians as they lay on the ground helpless. I am of the belief that to deliberately target innocent civilians is a war crime. Indeed the Crimes of War Education Project states that 'Combatants are all members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict' in contrast to this it states that Civilians and civilian objects are protected under the laws of armed conflict by the principle of distinction. Under this principle, parties to an armed conflict must always distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on the one hand, and combatants and military targets on the other.

In another comment on social media, self appointed amateur art critic and former Stormont MLA Mary Nelis (mother of Donnacha) stated the following with regard to the public meeting”The agenda of ignorance and lack of respect for the dead of Bloody Sunday. aside from the fact that the artwork on the wall is terrible.”What is also absolutely astounding about this comment is that Mary Nelis despite not being at the meeting herself is including not only family members of some of those murdered on Bloody Sunday, but also individuals who were wounded themselves.



The comment in relation to the artwork is incredible when you consider it was Mary who proposed, as a Sinn Fein Councillor in 2004 to have the murals in the Bogside sign posted. The same Mary Nelis who also had this to say "The marvellous work of the artists has enhanced the historic and artistic appeal of the area and contributes to the growing sense of pride which Derry people hold for the role they have played in the events that reverberated around the world three decades ago.”

After a trip to the Bogside, Andrea Wolwacz of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, one of the most important research universities in Latin America stated the following in her paper, An Analysis of the Museum of Free Derry:

I had the opportunity to visit Derry and the museum. It was an impressive experience because, the museum has a collection of objects, videos, posters, recordings, and writings from the people who lived the decades of “the troubles” that culminated in the “Blood Sunday” and were affected by these events.

Therefore, the purpose of the museum organizers is to tell the history of the Bogside from the point of view of these people, for they believe it is “the community story told from the community’s perspective”. Having the necessity of keeping archives of facts which deeply traumatized this community is way of healing. And, although this part of history can be seen from different perspectives, this one has its own legitimacy.

In order to enrich this work, I could not leave aside the murals of the Bogside. The murals, which are known as “The People’s Gallery”, are twelve large wall murals on view in the Bogside by Tom Kelly, Kevin Hasson and William Kelly, a group known as 'The Bogside Artists'. These men have lived in the Bogside and have experienced the conflict, so they have registered the events they have seen for the last thirty years. According to these artists “In telling this story they have served a pressing need for their community, and Derry people in general, to acknowledge with dignity, if not pride, the price paid by those who became victims of the struggle for democratic rights."

For me the text above sums up the symbiotic relationship that should exist between the Museum of Free Derry and the People's Gallery, they both reflect the same history, the both reflect the living history of the Bogside and they are both world class attractions that bring people into the Bogside.

Well, that would be the ideal, however a few days ago the Bloody Sunday Trust issued a statement online and through a local newspaper in response to some of the concerns raised at the public meeting in Pilot's Row. You can read the statement by clicking here.

Following the statement one of the organisers of the public meeting issued a rebuttal. Click here to read Vincent Coyle's rebuttal.

Yesterday a further statement appeared on the Pensive Quill From Vice Chairperson of the Bloody Sunday Trust Robin Percival. This article was in response to a radio interview given by both Kate Nash and Vincent Coyle. Click here to read Mr Percival's article.

In Robin's article he states 'There never was a plan to construct a memorial garden to include British soldiers in the Bogside.' Four years ago there was a brief discussion within the Trust about a Peace Garden. It went no further. Nor are there any plans to construct a memorial to include British soldiers now or in the future.

This contradicts what the Museum of Free Derry Manager said at the public meeting held in Derry. “We have talked about this, in the future, to put some sort of memorial garden in the green space behind. What that will take and who it will cover and funding, we are not even close to that point. There's an idea for a memorial garden that's as far as the idea is.”

Robin was two seats away from the manager in the public meeting, and neither he as Vice Chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust Nor the Chairperson of the Trust once challenged the statement above. There was ample opportunity on the night. Also on the subject of employee's of the museum Robin seems to take issue with how Kate Nash stated she spoke to a person who “works in the Museum.” It would seem his issue is with the fact that she didn't mention it was John Kelly whose brother was murdered on Bloody Sunday, by the same token, Robin failed to mention that Kate Nash is a relative of two Bloody Sunday victims.

2010 Design as published in the Derry Journal  
In relation to the removal of the ramp Robin stated 'But it is not true that the plans which currently involve the replacement of the ramp represent a change.' A publicity picture published in the Derry Journal in 2010 would contradict this. Furthermore Robin states that the ramp has been significantly altered without protest since Bloody Sunday. I would contest that cosmetic changes are a world apart from the complete removal of the ramp and I'm sure Robin would agree.

 
For reasons only known to himself Robin attempts to drag the reasons for people's concerns about elements of the proposed development to a sectarian level.

From the transcript of the radio interview it is evident that Kate's reference to the DUP's Arlene Foster is in relation to her role as Minister for tourism. As Robin states “As Minister responsible for Tourism Mrs Foster had to sign off on a large part of the allocation which she eventually did'. If Kate was attempting to bring a sectarian element into it would she not also have mentioned that the Dept for Social Development another DUP helmed Stormont department also provided funds? Kate Nash actually declares her hand in reference to the funding in that she clearly states 'I'm not very up on these things '.

If it had been a Sinn Fein Stormont Minister had rubber stamped the funds, what label would Robin had used? Would he have tried to imply there was a dissident element?

Robin also mentions how the Bloody Sunday Trust has no connection with any political party, this is in response to Kate Nash's comment in her radio interview in relation to the membership of the Bloody Sunday Trust that 'except for one person, one person who's in the SDLP, the rest are Sinn Féin members or people who are aligned to Sinn Féin.' If this is a perception held by family members of some of those wounded and murdered on Bloody Sunday, then it could well be a wider perception that the Bloody Sunday Trust may feel warrants addressing. Maybe it could be a perception exacerbated by the fact that Robin himself is referenced in Julie Ann Campbell's book on Bloody Sunday as a Sinn Fein member who submitted a paper to the ruling body of Derry Sinn Fein in 1989 called the Bloody Sunday Trust. Robin is also on record as saying that this was 'an attempt to create a broad-based organisation containing members of Sinn Fein, but also others, who were not members. If you look at the checklist in that paper, pretty much everything on it has since happened. It even mentioned setting up a museum to house the archival material being collected, even though back them it was described as an interpretive centre. It is worth noting that Julie Ann Campbell is the current chair person of the Bloody Sunday Trust.

I'm sure despite whatever differences exist that there can be a positive outcome, those elected to represent the community would need to ensure that the processes involved are open and transparent and that what is best for the community prevails. This is about more than a ramp, a mural, or a canopy over the entrance to a Museum, this is about securing the history of the Bogside and ensuring what the people in our community endured is never subject to revisionism and that their story is told. That for me is best done on the walls of Derry's Bogside and in the exhibition rooms of the Museum of Free Derry.











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