Nelson McCausland: Protestant exodus from Londonderry’s West Bank uncomfortable for republicans
Attempts to rewrite the history of people forced out by the IRA need to be stopped, writes Nelson McCausland
Tonight at the White Horse Hotel in Campsie there is an event to reflect on the massive migration of Protestants from the West Bank in Londonderry, across the Foyle, to the East Bank and even further afield.
That migration has been described as an ‘exodus’ and it is estimated that 97% of Protestants fled the West Bank during the Troubles, leaving around no more than few hundred Protestants, mainly in the Fountain estate, in the shadow of the city walls. The number of Protestants who fled could be as many as 15,000.
It is part of our troubled history and it is as deserving of consideration as any other, not least because of the scale of the migration and the fact that the late Martin McGuinness was the commander of the Provisional IRA in the city while this was happening.
It was therefore especially disappointing that Dolores Kelly MLA, the SDLP spokesperson on policing and justice, accused the DUP organisers of the event of “scratching around in the dirt”.
There was no need to disparage a simple evening of reflection and many folk will view Mrs Kelly’s choice of words as callous. They will see it as showing no regard and no respect for the victims of republican intimidation.
Yet time and again we have seen nationalists and republicans attempting to dismiss or diminish the Londonderry exodus.
In March this year the Pat Finucane Centre published a report titled ‘Protestant Migration from the West Bank of Derry/Londonderry 1969-1980’, which claimed that direct intimidation was not the main factor in the migration. They suggested that this was an unforced migration, a matter of choice rather than compulsion.
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At the time Gregory Campbell rightly accused the authors of rewriting history and he was absolutely right. Republicans are devoting much time and energy to “rewriting history”.
Of course that is a term which republicans dislike and recently Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney tweeted that they weren’t “rewriting history”, they were “rectifying history”.
Presumably that means that they are rewriting history in order to make sure that the dominant narrative aligns with their republican narrative.
They are determined to “rewrite history” in order to demonise the British Army and the RUC, legitimise the IRA and sanitise IRA terrorism; and the mass migration of Protestants from the West Bank, largely as a result of intimidation, exposes the duplicity of the republican narrative.
It is true that those who moved across the Foyle to the Waterside were not all directly intimidated. Not all of them were forced out by a gunman at the door. But then that was not how intimidation worked. All that the IRA had to do was make the West Bank a “cold house for Protestants”.
IRA terrorism with its murders, bombings, beatings and sectarian intimidation made the West Bank a cold house for Protestants and that is why 97% of them left.
Back in 1972, Jeanette Warke was 28 years old and married with three children when she fled her home in the Fountain for the safety of Newbuildings.
She said: “Every day we were living through hell. My husband was caught up in crossfire when he came home from work.
“They were banging on our door and shouting, ‘Get out Orange Bs’ and ‘Orange scum get out’.” It is not hard to see why so many Protestants fled from the West Bank.
Stanley Wray was a member of the RUC but on Sunday, May 20, 1979 he was off duty. He attended a service in Claremont Presbyterian Church on the Northland Road but as he left the church he was shot dead by an IRA gunman.
What impact did this and many other IRA murders have on the Protestant community on the West Bank? What message did it send out about the power and intent of the Provisional IRA?
So why then can a senior figure in the SDLP not respect the right of others to reflect on such a terrible wrong that was done on the Protestants of the West Bank in the Maiden City?