Civil servants rejected unionist ‘exodus’ proposals

PROPOSALS to move Londonderry’s main RUC station to the Fountain and to discriminate for Protestant tenants in a bid to halt population drift from the cityside were rejected by the former Secretary of State Roy Mason on the advice of civil servants in the late 1970s, the Sentinel can reveal.

Friday sees the official launch of Jonathan Burgess’ new book ‘The Exodus’ - a depiction of the decimation of the Protestant population of the West Bank during the 1970s.

Today the Sentinel can reveal how the former Labour Party Secretary of State was told not to relocate Londonderry’s main police station nearer the Fountain and not to intervene to shore up Protestant populations in Rosemount, the Glen and Belmont,

Former Londonderry MP William Ross met with Mr Mason in the company of Bishop Eames in November 1978 to express concern about the widespread migration of Protestants to the East Bank, which became manifest from 1972 onwards.

Statistics show the staggering scale of the “exodus:” in 1967/68 there were 12,000 Protestant electors registered on the West Bank but by 1978 there were just 4,000.

According to the District Development Officer in Londonderry, David White: “This movement has been particularly marked from around 1972/3 and since so that it does not show up in the 1971 Census figures.”

Mr Ross and Bishop Eames asked Mr Mason to take action to stem the haemorrhage.

Minutes of a meeting between the Minister, the politician and the prelate, show that Mr Ross felt: “The main causes were the points system for housing which worked against Protestants and, of course, IRA violence.”

“The good relations on Derry City Council were a myth. The appearance of co-operation arose from the fact that the Protestants were few enough not to represent a threat and tried to be constructive. They had gone way out on a branch and Paisley was now cutting it off,” he added.

Mr Ross argued Protestants should be positively discriminated for in housing and that a new RUC station closer to the Fountain would reassure a fearful unionist community surrounded by a predominantly nationalist population.

“Mr Ross’ two suggestions were that something should be done about housing, though he recognised the political difficulty about that, and that the RUC station should be re-sited closer to the Fountain Estate.

“On housing there was no difficulty about the Fountain Estate where the residents controlled allocations but more houses in the Glen and Northland estates should be made available to Protestants,” he said.

But after a series of meetings, studies and correspondence between local politicos and bureaucrats during 1978 and 1979 the then head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Sir Robert Kidd ultimately advised the late Mr Mason to reject these remedial proposals and indeed make no explicit response to Mr Ross and Bishop Eames.

Towards the end of Mr Mason’s tenure as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the civil service boss wrote to him stating: “For the moment no written report should be sent to Mr Ross or Bishop Eames, as we consider that steady progress on the already established course is more likely to persuade them of the essential rightness of what is now proposed and the difficulty of adopting the course which they suggest.”

See Page 18 for a full examination of the government papers.