Major new report into Protestant migration from the West Bank in Londonderry launched

Pat Finucane Centre chairman Tony Brown (centre) with report authors Dr Ulf Hansson and Dr Helen McLaughlin
Pat Finucane Centre chairman Tony Brown (centre) with report authors Dr Ulf Hansson and Dr Helen McLaughlin

The authors of a new report into the migration of Protestants from the West Bank in Londonderry in the 1970s say they hope it will be used as a means to help reintegrate the city in the future.

The report ‘Protestant Migration from the West Bank of Derry/Londonderry 1969-1980’ was commissioned by the Pat Finucane Centre and was written by local woman dr Helen McLaughlin and Swede Dr Ulf Hansson.

“I really want to see this report being used as a tool for leaders, not just political leaders but community leaders and groups and individuals to think about the reasons why something like this can happen and how to build a more integrated city in the future,” said Dr McLaughlin.

“By necessity, the report is very focused on what has happened in the past It would be great to see it being used as a tool to see how we reshape the city going forward.”

Although it was funded through the Pat Finucane Centre, Dr McLaughlin stressed the independent nature of the research she and Dr Hansson have produced.

“It was vitally important to have the involvement of someone from outside Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Furthermore we had our independence written into the contract.

“From the outset, we insisted that we would refer to the city throughout the report as ‘Derry/Londonderry’, which was against PFC policy of referring to it as ‘Derry’. It was an important statement that neither one side or the other was being favoured.”

The report concludes that although intimidation was a major factor in the mass migration, it was not the only factor.

Economic factors played a significant part, limited houses in the Cityside at the time played their part.

It also found that fear and hatred of their Catholic neighbours drummed up by unionist leaders was a factor.

Although Londonderry was not the only place to see migration of the Protestant population during the years of the Troubles, it had arguably a greater impact than anywhere else.

The figures involved are well documented but are still staggering. Between 1971 and 1981 (according to census figures) the Protestant population on the West Bank fell from 8,459 to 2, 874 - a decrease of 66 percent.

Between 1971 and 1991 they fell to 1, 407, a decrease of 81 percent.

Dr McLaughlin says that there is evidence to show that the rate has stopped and even possibly begun to reverse, although she conceded that more research is required to show that definitively.

No new research was carried out by the authors, who relied on reports carried out in the past.

But they also drew evidence from academic papers, local literature, documentary films as well as community histories.

Pat Finucane Centre chairman Tony Brown said: “Hopefully this report will be seen as an uncomfortable bt necessary contribution to a conversation that has a times been dominated by strident voices on one side and apathy on the other.

“Some have argues that Protestants living on the West Bank were intimidated out in a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing led by the IRA.

“The accusation itself of ethnic cleansing, could not be more serious, conjuring up images of Bosnia or Burma.

“This report provides a useful context for further debate on this issue.”

Maureen Hetherington of Community Relations at the Junction was a member of the cross-community advisory panel which helped oversee the project.

“It is imperative that we read the report in its entirety and reflect on the findings,” she said.

“There should be no cherry picking of the conclusions by one side or the other.

“This report can open an honest dialogue with one another and be a tool for healing past hurts.”

Community Relations Council chairman Peter Osborne added that a number of ‘difficult conversations’ needed to take place now.

“Northern Ireland was a horrible place to grow up in, in the 1970s,” he said.

“These conversations are needed if the city is to remain in the vanguard of positive change as it has been so often in the past.

“We need to keep one eye - not two - on the past so that our children can have a better future.”

You can download the full report at http://www.patfinucanecentre.org/truth-recovery/report-launch-protestant-migration-west-bank-derry-londonderry-1969-1980