A report funded by the Dublin government to “promote reconciliation” by exploring the mass ‘migration’ of Protestants in Londonderry has had the opposite effect, a DUP MLA has said.
The report into the reasons for the Protestant ‘exodus’ between 1969 and 1980 was published by the Pat Finucane Centre on Friday.
Between 1971 and 1981, the Protestant population on the west bank of the River Foyle in Londonderry fell from 8,459 to just 2,874, according to census figures.
The report found that while “direct intimidation” did happen and had a “major” impact on those subjected to it, it was not the “principal cause” of the ‘migration’.
Instead, it points to factors such as housing, poor economic development, a failure of political leadership and a diminished “sense of belonging” as having contributed to the decision by thousands to leave their homes, alongside what it called “safety and security” issues.
Those findings have proved controversial.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said: “The report headlines itself as ‘Protestant Migration from the West Bank’. Migration is a term more commonly used to describe a natural phenomenon among some birds who migrate for the winter, who usually return when the weather improves.
“The primary and overwhelming cause of the exodus from the West Bank was intimidation and violence. They did not ‘migrate’ and 99% of them never returned.
“There was obvious and naked sectarianism in the campaign which resulted in people fleeing the West Bank of the Foyle.
“Those who authored this report should listen to the voices of people directly affected and who have spoken of how the report seeks to ‘diminish’ their experience.
“They should not diminish it by increasing the significance of peripheral factors, by painting it as part of a much longer term pattern or blaming unionism for 90% of the Protestant population leaving the West Bank in 10 years.”
His party colleague, Foyle MLA Gary Middleton, was similarly critical.
“Over the years there have been attempts to justify, rewrite and portray the exodus of Protestants from the West Bank of Londonderry as being something much different from the reality at the time,” he said.
“The factual, evidence-based position has been well documented by the thousands who were intimidated and attacked from their homes and who were left with no choice but to move out for the safety of themselves and their families.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin helped fund the report through a grant scheme.
A spokesperson said: “We give funding to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), community groups, and voluntary organisations to support reconciliation and to create better understanding between people and traditions on the island of Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.”
Mr Middleton, however, said: “The majority of people who have spoken to me about this have not said that it has done good. Instead, they have said that it has done damage.
“The funding is to promote reconciliation. This report does not promote reconciliation.
“It seems to deny the reality of what happened and that has caused anger.”