Londonderry steps out from the long shadow cast by Bloody Sunday

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The Independent Online

The atmosphere in Londonderry's Guildhall has been grim for years, echoing with the mounting evidence in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry about that fateful day in 1972 when paratroopers killed 14 people. But in the surrounding area party-going young people have given the city a reputation as an exuberant centre of night-life. One professional woman said: "I was 11 in 1972, and young people today are not as political as I was. I knew all about politics, but now my teenagers don't give it a moment's thought; they're too busy having a good time. They know a bit about Bloody Sunday but that's maybe because of the inquiry."

The atmosphere in Londonderry's Guildhall has been grim for years, echoing with the mounting evidence in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry about that fateful day in 1972 when paratroopers killed 14 people. But in the surrounding area party-going young people have given the city a reputation as an exuberant centre of night-life. One professional woman said: "I was 11 in 1972, and young people today are not as political as I was. I knew all about politics, but now my teenagers don't give it a moment's thought; they're too busy having a good time. They know a bit about Bloody Sunday but that's maybe because of the inquiry."

Pat McArt, editor of the Derry Journal for 20 years, said: "A lot of Derry has moved on. We have a very young population, and young people have a vaguely blank look when you talk about it; they're aware of it but not of the details."

Derry has grown remarkably since Bloody Sunday. The multistorey flats that were the backdrop to the shootings are long gone. "The city is now far bigger and far younger," the professional woman said. "In the 1970s, it was a very depressed place, and a very depressing place. There was little to do. Now it's a vibrant city; we get tourists."

Mr McArt called the difference phenomenal, citing the sweeping waterfront development, with Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and other major stores. "Derry on a Friday night [used to] close," he said. "Now there's a lot of nightclubs, the kids are out and life has come back to the city centre."

One observer said wryly that scope for development had come partly from architects and designers and Martin McGuinness. When the Sinn Fein leader headed the city's IRA, his units pulverised so many premises it looked "as though it had been bombed from the air". Eamonn McCann, the Derry journalist who coined that phrase, said the city was now doing well commercially and had much new housing. But he and others pointed at low wages and continued unemployment. Mr McCann said: "There's an awful lot of job insecurity, shit jobs and people being treated like shit."

Another negative feature, the deep-seated religious segregation, has become almost as rigid as that of Belfast. Protestants have migrated from the west bank of the Foyle river, which holds the big Catholic housing estates and the city centre.

William Hay, a former Democratic Unionist mayor said: "Protestants feel very isolated from the life of the city, and feel their culture is under threat.

"There are fewer than 100 Protestant families on the whole of the west bank. If we can't do something to stop the haemorrhaging it will end up with a city that's going to be totally nationalist."

The young Catholics who know little about Bloody Sunday also know little about the Protestants across the Foyle. The professional woman said: "My kids don't mix, no more than I did. That lack of social contact stunts the growth of society here."

But why the continuing concentration on Bloody Sunday? Mr McArt said: "It was probably the only case in the Troubles where those who died were actually blamed for their own deaths. In other words, they were guilty, rather than the people who committed the crime.

"There was real hatred against the British state because not only did they shoot them dead but then they smeared them."

The hatred, he said, "festered and festered" but setting up the inquiry had helped. The nationalists hope the inquiry, which reports next year, will bring an element of closure.

INQUIRY IN NUMBERS

* Cost: £155m

* Cost of moving the inquiry from Londonderry to London: £15m

* Witnesses: 921 (including 505 civilian, 245 military, 49 media and seven priests)

* Written statements: 1,800

* The inquiry has sat for 434 days since 27 March 2000

* Inquiry runs for about five hours per day, four days a week

* The opening speech by counsel to the inquiry, Christopher Clarke QC, lasted for 42 days of sittings (Days 1 to 42) over three months and is the longest in British legal history

* Evidence considered: 35 bundles of evidence each comprising about 150 volumes. It has been estimated that these bundles contain 20 to 30 million words. In addition, about 16 million words have been spoken and transcribed during the 434 days of hearings; 12 volumes of photographs, 121 audiotapes and 109 videos circulated.

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