Common Sense and Practical Approach Needed for Museum of Free Derry

Veteran Civil Rights Activist Vincent Coyle with a response to the statement issued by Julie-Ann Campbell and Robin Percival of the Bloody Sunday Trust on August 1st 2014 which appeared in the August 4th edition of the Derry News.

On August 4th a letter appeared in the Derry News from the Bloody Sunday trust over concerns expressed by the public at a public meeting in Derry on July 25th. A response to this letter was printed in the August 7th edition of the Derry News. 

There are a number of points raised in the published letter that need addressing.

Firstly I have some concerns over the tone of the letter, the nature of some of the language used and ultimately a number of key points.
The letter uses very evocative language, such as "accusations made" and also states that your representatives will not take part in future public meetings unless treated with courtesy by the organisers. I take this as a personal insult and slight on my character as when the members of the Bloody Sunday Trust and employees of the Museum entered the hall at Pilots Row just prior to the meeting starting I welcomed them. I then asked would they be willing to take questions and offered them a seat at the top table, an offer they declined. I would also point out that the organisers had sent private invites to the Bloody Sunday Trust in advance of the meeting as well as having an advertisement printed in the Derry News. As we had not received any response from either the trust or museum, the organisers decided that the meeting would be of an informal nature.

I would further add that at the start of the meeting I publicly reiterated my full support for the modernisation and extension of the Museum of Free Derry (Bloody Sunday Museum) hailing the plans we welcomed as a community in 2010. I was very forthright expressing my disappointment over the amended plans which were submitted to the planning department on December 23rd 2013 without consultation. Plans which now include what seems to be a non-transparent partition at the top of a realigned ramp coupled with a canopy at the entrance of the museum. 

I would like to take this opportunity to also address accusations that people who have raised concerns over the redesign of the museum do not want the plans to proceed. This is completely untrue. Indeed my support for the museum is a matter of public record as is the fact that my late father's distinctive hat which my family donated, was displayed among the artefacts within the museum.

At the start of the meeting I stated that we would begin with a short presentation and then open the discussion to the floor. From the outset I was heckled and harangued. Within minutes of beginning the presentation I was interrupted by an employee of the Museum of Free Derry who from the outset of the meeting had been shouting from the back of the hall. I courteously provided her with an opportunity to speak and give her perspective. I would point out that this employee not only disrupted the short presentation but neglected to mention her employment and as such conflict of interest.

Sensing that some people were becoming agitated and in an attempt to try to minimise disruption and give people opportunity to participate I decided that even during the presentation I would attempt to facilitate comments from the floor. The next gentleman to take the microphone made a series of accusations against myself, and when challenged stormed out of the meeting uttering obscenities. The letter published in the Derry News penned by Mr Percival & Ms Campbell states that 'personal abuse directed at our representatives was allowed to go unchallenged.' I was also the victim of accusations and abuse, something the letter conveniently fails to acknowledge. So whilst the disruption which occurred was regrettable it was by no means one sided.

The letter also raises the issue that people were concerned that the Civil Rights Mural will be obscured, but stated that the planning documents and promotional materials easily demonstrated that the 'realignment' of the pram ramp was part of the 2010 and 2013 plans. There was an image used on that night as part of the presentation published in the Derry Journal in July 2010 which clearly shows the redeveloped museum not obscuring the iconic Civil Rights mural. This would contradict the assertion that promotional materials show the 'realigned ramp'. 

Furthermore in relation to the mural in the letter it states 'However the Trust will be approaching the relevant statutory bodies with a number of alternatives which we hope will address this issue'. I would like to take this opportunity to publicly ask why the Bloody Sunday Trust are not bringing these alternatives to the people of the Bogside. What are these alternatives? When will the people be informed of them, and what statutory bodies will they be contacting? Surely the least we can expect in light of the level of feeling around this development is clarity, transparency and openness?

A major bone of contention on the evening of the meeting arose when the brother of a young man murdered by British Crown Forces questioned representatives from the Museum and Bloody Sunday Trust. This man stated that he had been told that a memorial garden in memory of all victims of the 'troubles' including British State Forces was to be part of a further development of the Museum of Free Derry.

In the letter it states:
There are no plans whatsoever to develop a memorial Garden to anyone, least of all British Soldiers, in the space behind the museum, or on the roof of the museum. Museum education officer John Kelly, brother of bloody Sunday victim Michael Kelly said: The fact is that myself and Jean Hegarty, two Bloody Sunday relatives work in the museum and do people really believe that we would accept such a thing? I really can't believe that this scandalous gossip has been given so much credence by people who should know better. This damages not only the reputation of the museum but the reputation of the relatives who work here and those on the board of BST.
If John Kelly had been at the meeting I would say the response attributed to him may have been quite different, because if John had been present he would have heard the manager of the Museum Mr Adrian Kerr say:
We have talked about this, in the future, to put some sort of memorial garden in the green space behind. What that will take and who it will cover and funding, we are not even close to that point. There's an idea for a memorial garden that's as far as the idea is.
So whilst there may be no physical plans as yet there has been discussion with or without the knowledge of the Museum employees who are also Bloody Sunday family members. How Ms. Campbell and Mr.Percival can incredulously state in writing that there have been no plans whatsoever in respect of a memorial garden as they sat beside Mr Kerr as he gave his answer through a microphone and public address system is something which beggars belief.

I'm thankful that some members of the audience had the forethought to make an audio recording of the meeting and I have provided an audio copy of Mr Kerr's response to the editor of The Pensive Quill for him to verify what I am stating is a matter of fact and not a baseless accusation.

Mr. Percival & Ms Campbell also state in relation to a call for the current ramp to be retained that there have been significant changes since Bloody Sunday. They also mentioned a report of the meeting published in the Derry Journal that someone had been shot on the ramp. I would point out two things, the first is that if Mr Percival and Ms Campbell have an issue with a matter reported in the Derry Journal they take issue with that publications editor.

Secondly in reference to the ramp in question it was stated at the meeting that this was where Alex Nash left safety to attempt to rescue his fatally wounded son before he was brutally gunned down. 

Liam Wray the brother of Jim Wray who was murdered on Bloody Sunday addressed the matter of the ramp succinctly at the meeting when he said:
I was there on Bloody Sunday and used that ramp for cover. Where it is possible to keep these things intact in relation to Bloody Sunday then they should be. Other countries do their best to preserve these type of artefacts and so should we.

 Liam Wray further made reference to what he believes to be “ Cultural Vandalism”.

Surely the significance of this ramp warrants it's retention? The argument in relation to the demolition of the Rossville Flats as justification for the realignment of the 'pram ramp' is one that should only be met with derision. The Rossville Flats were unfit for purpose and even as far back as 1984 the then Mayor of the City, the SDLP's John Tierney was calling for the demolition of the flats, and at that time Mr Tierney stated that the move would be fully supported by the residents. 

I feel it essential to ensure the wider public is made aware that I personally hand delivered a letter to the Bloody Sunday Trust on 28th July, a correspondence which was signed by other interested parties. In the letter we thanked the members of the trust for attending the meeting and requested a further private meeting with the Bloody Sunday Trust be arranged to see if accommodation could be reached on a number of the issues raised at the meeting in respect of the 'realignment' of the ramp and obscuring of the Civil Rights mural. 

At the request of a relatives of some of those murdered on Bloody Sunday and relatives of other victims of murders carried out by members of the crown forces I had been asked to request the further meeting to seek clarification on the development of the proposed memorial garden which Mr Kerr of the museum acknowledged had been discussed, despite the denials subsequently issued through the Derry News.

In closing I would reiterate my continuing support for investment in the Museum of Free Derry and would hope that a common sense and practical approach will be taken.

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