Derry peace bridge seen as uniting force in divided city

 

DERRY’S ICONIC Peace Bridge has been formally opened by EU commissioner Johannes Hahn alongside the Taoiseach and the heads of the Stormont Executive.

The £14.67 million (€16.5 million) foot and cycle bridge links the divided city’s Waterside and Cityside and was jointly financed by the EU, the Government and Stormont.

It is only the third bridge to span the Foyle in Derry and its construction is central to the city’s economic and social regeneration programme.

Making the first official crossing of the structure alongside Enda Kenny, Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and John Hume, Mr Hahn said: “One of the key objectives of the European Union is to bring people together to live in peace, with a common respect both for shared values and for diversity.

“I believe that the peace bridge will help further this goal for the people of Derry-Londonderry. It will encourage greater levels of cross-community integration and usher in a new period of peace and reconciliation for the city.”

Mr Robinson said: “Peace does not come from a bridge but from the people who use it.”

Mr McGuinness endorsed the comments made by his “friend and colleague”, the First Minister, and said the opening ceremony heralded “a bright, brand new day” for the people of Derry, as envisaged by songwriter Phil Coulter.

The Taoiseach said: “This is a visible evidence of the continued contribution of European citizens towards helping Derry, Northern Ireland and all public representatives as we build a new future of prosperity and peace. It truly is a wonderful day for this city and its people.”

He reiterated the Government’s commitment to investing more than €400 million in cross-Border infrastructural projects already agreed with Stormont.

“We intend to follow through on the commitment already entered into in working with the members of the Executive as we develop infrastructure for Northern Ireland like the roads system [and] the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin [hospital] to which the Government is committed and will follow through.”

He added: “The sharing of services across the Border will be of benefit to both communities and [will be] a cost saving and a demonstration of what can be achieved if you have clarity, co-operation and decisiveness between different administrations.”

The new bridge is more than 300m long and follows a fluid “S” shape from the west bank near Guildhall Square to the parade ground at the former Ebrington Barracks on the east bank. The main contractor was Graham Construction of Co Down, the company also responsible for the Foyle Bridge, which opened in 1984.

The barracks, which once housed the British army, was gifted to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister in 2003 and is being redeveloped as a mixed- use facility by Ilex, Northern Ireland’s only public regeneration company.

Senior Executive members, with the support of the Taoiseach, later discussed with Mr Hahn proposals for a new round of EU structural development investment. The commissioner said he was willing but added that further funding was dependent on support from British prime minister David Cameron.

The current round, known as Peace III, has already committed some €333 million of EU money to a range of projects across Northern Ireland.

Pat Colgan, chief executive of the Special EU Programmes Body, which spearheaded the investment, said the bridge was the result of many years work.

“The bridge shouldn’t be seen on its own. It is part of a wider regeneration, not just of this city but of the communities.”