Mark Durkan concern over Protestant isolation in Londonderry

By Éamon Phoenix

  • Published
David Trimble and Mark DurkanImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Mark Durkan, on the right, went on to become leader of the SDLP and deputy first minister of Northern Ireland

The plight of the Protestant minority in Londonderry's Cityside was raised by Mark Durkan in 1993.

A Derry City councillor at the time, Mr Durkan spoke to the Stormont Central Community Relations Unit (CCRU).

The future SDLP leader was concerned Protestants "would feel even more isolated and marginalised because of a lack of representation".

He suggested the council use a community relations programme to ensure they retained confidence in the city.

It is believed about 90% of Protestants left the mainly nationalist Cityside during the Troubles.

Mr Durkan's concerns are found in a memo dated 2 January 1993.

It is part of a collection of previously classified papers, recently released by the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
After the Troubles begin more and more Protestants moved to the east side of the River Foyle in Derry

A memo in the file, dated June 1993, charted the large-scale decline in the number of Protestants living in Derry's Cityside,

One account estimated a total of 1,300 to 1,500 residents, about half of whom lived in the Fountain Estate.

Twenty five years earlier, the official noted, there were as many as 18,000 Protestants living on the Cityside of the River Foyle.

On a visit to Derry, S Quinn, who sat on the CCRU, recorded: "Everyone we spoke to, including the SDLP, believed it was desirable for a Protestant presence to continue on the West Bank."

However, many regarded the continual outflow to the Waterside area of the city, especially among the young, as leaving an ageing population, lacking in leadership.

"Although intimidation and violence were rather less than in the previous 20 years, the overwhelmingly nationalist ethos of the area, and the city council's perceived nationalist bias... had encouraged people to leave."

'A segregated city'

Another factor was the availability of attractive housing in the Waterside.

Protestants, he noted, had remained in the Fountain because of its historic importance, encompassing the city centre, the Derry Walls and the cathedral.

Some felt that the decline of the Protestant population was irreversible though DUP councillor Gregory Campbell felt that there were two years to act before it was too late.

In his conversation with Tony McCusker of the CCRU, Mr Durkan stated that "a segregated city was not in anyone's interest" and recognised that the council might need to do more to place Protestant concerns on the agenda.

The issue was discussed at a meeting involving Northern Ireland Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew in July 1993.

Michael Ancram reported that John Hume had made strong representations for the government to do something for the Protestant population.

The Protestant sense of alienation, he went on, was strong, especially in relation to jobs when it was said that one firm, United Technologies, had a 97% Catholic workforce.

For his part, Sir Patrick felt that the decline had been going on for 20 years and there was little that the government could do to reverse it.

Dr Éamon Phoenix is a political historian, broadcaster and commentator.