Belfast Telegraph

Report into Protestant exodus from west bank of Foyle 'plays down intimidation', say victims

Derry city.
Derry city.
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A report claiming intimidation was not the only reason behind thousands of Protestants leaving the west bank of Londonderry has been challenged by some of those affected.

The publication by human rights organisation the Pat Finucane Centre says poor housing and a lack of economic development also played their part.

Between 1971 and 1981 the Protestant population of the west bank, also known as the cityside, dropped by two-thirds - from 8,459 in 1971 to 2,874 in 1981.

By 1991 it had fallen to 1,407, down 83% in those 20 years.

Jeanette Warke and Victor Wray, both of whom left their homes due to intimidation, accused the report's authors of "diminishing" their experiences.

Their view is supported by playwright Jonathan Burgess, whose work The Forgotten Exodus is based on the experiences of the hundreds of Protestant families forced from their homes in the west bank.

The report, Protestant Migration From The West Bank of Derry/Londonderry 1969-1980, by Dr Helen McLaughlin and Dr Ulf Hansson, was launched in Derry yesterday.

It says that while there was intimidation of Protestants, this was not the sole reason for people leaving.

The report says intimidation was a "highly significant factor", but suggests the situation was more complex.

It states: "The evidence shows that a number of complex and often inter-related 'push' and 'pull' factors contributed to Protestant migration from the west bank of Derry/Londonderry from 1969-1980 in particular."

The report says other reasons included "poor and limited housing on the cityside and the availability of better housing elsewhere", and the policy of skewing economic development and investment away from Derry.

But some with first-hand experience of having to leave dispute the findings.

Mrs Warke said: "To suggest we left our home in Mountjoy Street, that we bought from hard-earned money and were bringing our family up in, just so we could get a bigger house in the Waterside, makes me so angry; I am fuming.

"We were forced to leave our home against our will but we still had to pay our mortgage on it and at the same time pay rent on a house in Newbuildings, a place we didn't want to be in.

"We left in March 1972 because of continued intimidation of the Protestant people and after I was attacked in the middle of Abercorn Road, ordered to leave and called 'Orange scum'.

"My own neighbours in Mountjoy Street were brilliant and they were sorry to see us going.

"But to say we left to get a bigger house is insulting and, more than that, I see this report as an attempt to deny what we went through."

Mr Wray, who attended the launch yesterday, had a similar experience of being forced from the family home: "My grandmother left my mother our house in Argyle Street but they had to move because my father was a policeman and the house was shot at three times," he said.

"The suggestion that people were leaving was to get a bigger house makes me angry; the real reason was fear. Even the Protestant families who were not directly intimidated felt they had to go too because they felt it was only a matter of time before someone would knock on their door."

Dr McLaughlin and Dr Hansson said they hope their report will "add to understanding the phenomenon of Protestant migration from the west bank" and will "provide a framework to build towards an inclusive future".

However, Mr Burgess claimed the report could set back community relations.: "The Derry model of community relations is struggling already since the addition of Strabane to the council area, but this is will pour cold water on community relations even further," he said.

People were put out of their homes and there was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the air at the time.

"This republican-motivated human rights scenario is not only dominating the narrative in regards to peace and victimhood, but it is also denying my community its story, and that is quite cruel. You can't say this didn't happen. Thousands of Protestants came out of the west bank for a reason - and it wasn't to get a better house."

Veteran civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann commented: "I think it is a mistake to attribute the exodus of Protestants from the west bank to a particular single reason. There are subtleties here, there are nuances, there are contradictions, but in the end, it seems to me, I do believe there were large numbers of Protestant people who began to feel uncomfortable and isolated, fearful where they were living.

"The fact was the fear was genuine, so the fear was real."

Belfast Telegraph


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