Mood of hope on streets of Londonderry

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THE HISTORY of Londonderry is in many ways the history of the troubles. This beautiful city with its 17th-century walls has seen some of the most violent excesses resulting from Northern Ireland's sectarian division: the brutal suppression of civil rights marches and Bloody Sunday.

Yesterday morning the city, for so long in the eye of the storm, woke up to what is meant to be a bright new dawn of peace. What happened here in Ulster's second city, with its Catholic majority making up 75 per cent of the population, will play a crucial part in whether the agreement hammered out in Stormont is going to work.

If the nationalists of Londonderry fail to back the settlement in the referendum, not only will it be the end of the current peace process, but it could also lessen the influence of local MP John Hume and his party, the SDLP.

The mood on the streets is one of optimism, and a desire to vote for the agreement - albeit a desire tempered by caution. At the Gweedore Bar in Waterloo Street, Joe Monaghan, a 32-year-old businessman and Catholic, confessed: "I actually shed a few tears when I heard the news. I am absolutely bowled over. I've got three kids and I do not want them to grow up with the nonsense I've had to grow up with.

"Some of my mates say it's not going to work; there are too many problems. But that's just cynical. We have faced problems before and overcome them."

There are reservations, not just about the terms of the settlement, which most feel they can vote for, but whether it can survive the Orange marching season and the Apprentice Boys parade. Mary Fitzgerald, a Catholic who runs a bed and breakfast establishment, recalled: "Last summer business was dead thanks to all the trouble over the marches. All the shopkeepers suffered as well. What's the peace process going to do about that?"

However, overall the belief is that Londonderry - always called Derry in its Catholic areas - has pulled itself up by its economic boot straps. With the help of government grants, companies such as Seagate Technology of California and clothing company Fruit of the Loom have invested in the city. Other overseas concerns are showing active interest. The splendid art deco Trinity Hotel in the city centre is seen as symbolising the regeneration of Londonderry. Owner Garvan O'Doherty started off his business career with a pub in the mid 1980s. Now he has 12 of them and he's planning to build another hotel.

Mr O'Doherty, at 38 representing a new generation of entrepreneurs, is fiercely loyal to the city: "The peace process is a chance of a lifetime. I am convinced that if we are allowed to have peace, the economic benefits would be tremendous. Derry will really bloom, and the tourist trade will take off.

"The young people want peace; they do not want this violence to continue. Whoever wrecks this will have a heavy burden to bear. I am very optimistic, and my managers in the pubs say that's the feeling they're getting as well from the customers."

Across the River Foyle on the Loyalist enclaves of the East Bank, the mood is sombre, angry and certainly not optimistic. Here the city is always called Londonderry, the name given when it was colonised by Protestants and the city handed over to the Corporation of London in 1613.

Standing at a housing estate, with the backdrop of kerb stones painted red, white and blue, 43- year-old Andrew Fraser is bitter at what he sees as an act of betrayal. He said: "What the IRA could not win by the gun has been given away to them over tea and biscuits at Stormont. I don't want this agreement to succeed because at the end it can only lead to a united Ireland, and this is a part of Britain. I am British."