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Derry culture title 'a gift to the peacemakers'

Londonderry's selection as the UK's first City of Culture is a tribute to all those who have worked for peace through its troubled past, it was claimed last night.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the accolade ensured his native Derry could now look to a brighter future,

"This is a gift to the peacemakers," an emotional Mr McGuinness said moments after the result was announced in Liverpool this evening.

Londonderry saw off stiff rival bids from Birmingham, Norwich and Sheffield to be crowned UK City of Culture 2013.

The title, which comes with no Government funding, is designed to help areas boost their economy through tourism and the creative industries.

The news was met with jubilant scenes in Northern Ireland's second city.

It will also provide a much needed fillip for the entire region in a week were violence returned to the streets in the form of widespread rioting in a number of republican areas.

Derry witnessed much suffering and bloodshed during the troubles and the city is still marked by deep sectarian divisions, but in recent years strides have been made to bring Protestant and Catholic communities closer together.

"This is fantastic news for the city and the entire region and I am immensely proud of what has been achieved," Mr McGuinness added.

"The task that now lies before us is to ensure that tonight's announcement will provide a similar catalyst for my home town to avail of the potentially massive benefits culturally, economically and socially for all our people.

"It is an opportunity that Derry and its people will seize with both hands and I am especially looking forward to our return to Derry tomorrow to join in what I know will be a fantastic occasion."

Back in Derry the party looked set to continue well into the night as local people toasted the achievement inside in the city's historic Guild Hall.

It is the second momentous occasion witnessed in the grand old building within a month, following the long awaited publication of the Saville report into the Bloody Sunday killings of 14 civilians by the British Army in 1972.

The report, which cleared all the victims of claims they were armed, was greeted with euphoria by thousands gathered in and outside the hall.

But if that event closed a dark chapter on the past, tonight's opened a bright new one to the future.

The competition was launched by the last government following Liverpool's success as European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Derry will not receive any Government funding but, as holder of the City of Culture title, can expect to stage a number of nationally significant events.

Liverpool's tenure saw it play host to events ranging from the Turner Prize to the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Derry's bid was backed by band Snow Patrol and high profile names such as poet Seamus Heaney.

Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said the award was a tremendous achievement and praised the bid team that delivered the victory.

"To have beaten off stiff competition from a number of other major UK cities is a tremendous achievement and is reflective of the bid team's enthusiasm and professionalism," he said.

"The north west, and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole, basks in the glory of their achievement.

"This success portrays Northern Ireland in a positive and inspirational light and is indicative of what we can offer the world both culturally and socially."

"I have no doubt that the people of Londonderry will embrace the spirit and ethos of the City of Culture and that 2013 will be a great year for the city, the north west and Northern Ireland."

The year of culture will coincide with the 400th anniversary of the building of the city's famous fortified walls and local people intend to mark both in style.

The city's MP, Mark Durkan, said he was delighted by the result.

"I congratulate the whole bid team," he said. "This is a title well won, a job well done.

"We will see Derry looking forward and looking outward but showing all its inner talents and strengths.

"People throughout Ireland and Britain will see a city that nurtures talent - plays, writes, sings, dances, creates and innovates.

"This will be a big opportunity not just to show off Derry's cultural pedigree but also sees our cultural destiny in a way that will provide a platform for our future growth, not least economically."

Colum Eastwood, the Mayor of Londonderry, said the title would leave a lasting legacy for Derry.

"This will bring the jobs, the investment, the regeneration that we need," he said.

The winner was announced by UK Culture minister Ed Vaizey.

"This is a truly great moment for Londonderry," he said.

"The panel were unanimous in their recommendation because of their compelling cultural programme, the way it seeks to address the city's past, and the enthusiasm and commitment of the city and its supporters."

Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson also passed on his congratulations.

"When I was in the city last week I was hugely impressed by the quality of the bid to become the UK's first City of Culture," he said.

"Those behind the bid have done a magnificent job and I congratulate them on this success.

"For those who call this great place Londonderry and for those who call it Derry, they can be as one in their pride in this huge achievement."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward said: "I congratulate the people of Derry on this impressive award.

"Theirs is a great city in a beautiful part of the world. My hope is that many will come from far and wide to experience the history and culture of this special place."

TV producer and writer Phil Redmond, who sat on the Independent Advisory Panel, said: "I have no doubt that Londonderry will follow Liverpool and show what impact, what step change, a year in the media spotlight can bring about."

The US government's economic envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly joined Stormont Culture Minister Nelson McCausland, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell and Alliance Party Culture spokesman Kieran McCarthy in hailing the city's achievement.

Congratulations also came from the Republic of Ireland with Irish premier Brian Cowen putting the victory down to a great cross-community effort.

"It is a tremendous achievement that will allow Derry and the North West to show the wider world how far it has come and how much it has to offer," he said.

Actor James Nesbitt, one of a number of celebrities who had backed the city's bid, said the award acknowledged Derry's rich cultural heritage.

"This decision confirms what many of us in the province and further afield have known for many years - that Derry-Londonderry is a cultural powerhouse," said Nesbitt, who is now Chancellor of the University of Ulster, which has a campus in the city.

"Whether it is writers like Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, songwriters and performers like Phil Coulter or the Undertones, artists like Willie Doherty, film-makers like Margo Harkin and Tom Collins, or actors like Amanda Burton, Roma Downey and Bronagh Gallagher, the city has asserted a huge influence on the arts internationally.

"It is great to see that creativity and talent being recognised and rewarded and I know the university is looking forward to playing its part in a programme of events which will do Derry-Londonderry and the province proud."

In Liverpool, Derry resident Carmel McCallion was invited to join her city's party with grandchildren Megan, seven, and four-year-old Dara.

The family were visiting relatives in Liverpool and had travelled to the Pier Head with a home-made banner supporting their city.

Mrs McCallion said: "It was absolutely fantastic to see Derry win today. I just hope people will now see Derry in its true light.

"Hopefully we will get a lot good publicity from it and a lot of jobs."

Megan said: "Derry is really great and the people are very friendly."

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