Historic day in Derry
BY SINEAD MacLOCHLAINN
Free Derry Wall has been a gathering point for Derry republicans throughout this struggle. It is the place where so many historic events have taken place and is synonymous with the civil rights struggle. It is where we witnessed 14 of our friends, neighbours and family members gunned down by British paratroopers on Bloody Sunday. It is where we stood our ground in the ``Battle of the Bogside''. And so it is fitting that Derry republicans gathered again at the wall to witness yet another historic event unfold, this time a joyous one.
The release and homecoming of Tony Doherty from Long Kesh is significant for two reasons. First it signals the imminent closing of Long Kesh, secondly Tony's release is special because he is Derry's last POW to be released and returned home.
Among the hundreds who tuerned up were Derry's new Sinn Féin mayor, Cathal Crumley, along with Mitchel McLaughlin, Bairbre de Brún, the city's Sinn Féin councillors and many of Derry's former POWs. A short time later, the sound of car horns in the distance signaled Tony's arrival and the crowd began to cheer and move onto the street surrounding his car. Tony emerged to the cheers of his friends, comrades, neighbours and family. He appeared overwhelmed at the big Derry welcome. After a few private hugs and tears, he was taken to the base of Free Derry Wall for a special commemoration presentation and speech in honour of the occasion.
Derry's Martina Anderson knows only too well what Tony must have been feeling, as she herself was only released just over a year ago. Her speech captured the emotion of the day. We were reminded of the history of Long Kesh and the huge part it played in our lives for so many years.
Martina spoke of the many battles which epitomise Irish republicans' refusal to allow our struggle to be criminalised by the British and she named those struggles as we each recalled them in our own memories.
Speaking as a former POW herself and on behalf of the Derry POWs, she thanked the people of Derry for their support along with the Prisoners Dependants Fund, which made precious visits possible.
She reminded those gathered that this struggle is not and was not about prisoner releases, that the goal of Irish unity is still the centre of the republican struggle, and while we are grateful for the release of our comrades, we are still faced with much of the same injustices which took our people to those jails.