Thursday, 4 March 2010

Division of Culture - Not me!

As the son of a west bank Derry/Londonderry (Stroke) City born and raised father, who father, and father's father and his father before him were all born in the city I'm proud of the culture of that city.

There are the poets Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane, authors Joyce Cary, Jennifer Johnshon and Nell McCaferty, playwright Brian Friel, artist Willie Doherty. Musicians Dana, the Undertones, Damian McGinty and Keith Harkin of Celtic Thunder and yes even Girls Aloud's Nadine Coyle. There was also the restoration dramatist Geroge Farquhar and the hymn writer of There is a Green Hill Far Away Cecil Alexander is often said to have been inspired to write that from the view from the Bishop's Palace of the hills outside Derry's walls.

I know that at times it has been tough to reconcile all parts of the city together. Indeed the part of the city that as a boy and youth I visited to see my grandmother was a protestant enclave on the 'wrong' side of the Foyle in some people's opinion. My family also has strong links to county Donegal, the county just a few miles to the West or North of Stroke City but is actually in the 'South of Ireland'.

However, no matter how close the City is to the border of another country it is part of the United Kingdom, its culture is diverse and crosses that man-made imaginary line in the hills. It is a diverse culture and one that is as much part of this country as any other and one that if worthy of being a name being considered City of Culture for a year if it were awarded.

The problem of course is that the full title of the award under consideration is the UK City of Culture and the leader of Sinn Féin on the council Maeve McLaughlin has said:

"While we are a city of culture there has to be a recognition that we're not part of the UK. We are not opposing the bid, but we are putting down a marker at this stage and saying we should be exploring, rather than cementing, this relationship.

"There is a huge onus on the team that's been put together to lead this bid to put in writing how they will address the issue of the tens of thousands of nationalists and republicans in this city and region who do not recognise themselves as part of the UK."

As I've pointed out above the geography does make the city a part of the UK, but I readily admit that the culture is not so easily confined. As someone who support Bangor and Ulster in the Rugby yet Down and Derry in the Gaelic sports I'm part of that mixed up culture.

I'm more of the same mind as the former SDLP leader Mark Durkan MP who said:

"This bid is an opportunity for Derry to promote itself as a city and to promote the wider region. It is about our civic ambition. It is about our cultural ambition. It is nothing to do with political aspiration – in which the people of this city have very clear views and differences about wanting to be part of a united Ireland or United Kingdom.

"Are we going to say that any other funding or opportunity that is set up on a UK basis we count ourselves out of? We should not be disabling ourselves from making the most of any opportunity to which we are as entitled as anyone else.

"And we can do that without compromising any of our political beliefs, any of our interests and identities that we hold very dearly at a political level."

I know for a fact that nationalist groups are not backward in coming forward for funding from the Northern Irish departments since devolution, just because the money is from the UK coffers.

I hope Sinn Féin realise that the title is one thing how that is then promoted is up to the people and civic officials of Derry/Londonderry/Doire. Give the City a chance to celebrate its culture in all its diversity.

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