This morning’s explosion at the Everglades Hotel caused extensive damage to the business’s reception area but I fear the damage to Derry’s reputation is even more severe. Those trying to attract tourists to the area must be deeply frustrated. Those trying to attract jobs and investment must despair.
The people most directly affected by the attack included family members preparing for a funeral today; guests with medical needs (which heroic hotel staff still managed to meet); and ordinary Derry people enjoying a night out. This was an attack not just on a hotel, but on the people of Derry, and visitors from elsewhere. I haven’t even mentioned people who were in the vicinity while the device was being manufactured and transported.
Ironically, while the bombers were preparing their assault, I was attending an event in the city at which respected local dramatist, Dave Duggan, was launching his latest play, ‘Denizen’, in which the fictitious last dissident republican is challenged to lay down his arms. In a further irony, at precisely the same time, people who helped make City of Culture 2013 such a success for Derry were being fêted at the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards.
It is obvious that the vast, vast majority of Derry people disapprove of what happened at the Everglades in the early hours. This kind of activity has the support of only a minority – a tiny minority – who are either unaware of, or even worse indifferent to, the impact of continuing bomb attacks on Derry’s reputation. Take it from me: this explosion will have a negligible ‘military’ impact but serious economic consequences.
The time has long passed for an end to these attacks, if they ever should have happened in the first place. I don’t pretend that Derry doesn’t have problems; there are many, endemic unemployment being the most pressing. But bombings won’t solve them. Clever politics will.
We, as Derry people, need to send out a message – to the bombers and to the world – that attacks like this morning’s are not done in our name. Ours is a great city, a friendly city; we have much to offer, given half a chance. Support us as we try to build a better future for all our citizens – young and old, of all traditions, of all religions and none.
I am delighted to see that Sunday’s Walled City Marathon is expected to start, as planned, at the Everglades Hotel. That would be a fitting response to those who damage our reputation and jeopardise our future. The task of building that better future is itself a marathon. It starts here. It starts now.
And some advice for the bombers: not in my name.