Two women who lost loved ones in the conflict have occupied the Museum of Free Derry in the city’s Bogside, refusing to get out at closing time and sleeping overnight on the floor after a row over a notorious exhibition which equates Bloody Sunday victims with their killers.
Helen Deery, whose 15-year-old brother Manus was shot dead by a British soldier in 1972, and Linda Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday in the same year, are outraged that their loved ones names are part of an exhibition which also names dead British soldiers.
The names of everyone killed in the conflict from 1969 to 1972 - IRA Volunteers, civilians, British Army and police - flash up on a screen on one visual exhibition at the Bogside Museum.
This week, the women brought overnight bags, sleeping bags and pyjamas into the museum, sat in the foyer with ‘victims betrayed’ placards and refused to leave at closing time. They slept on the concrete floor overnight and say they will do so every night until the exhibition is taken down.
“We are occupying the Museum of Free Derry and we are not coming out until that display is down,” said Ms Deery.
“We have tried every other form of protest to have them take our loved one’s names down. I have told them on numerous occasions of the hurt and anxiety that this is causing me and other family members. I am staying here until they take this down.
“I have my pyjamas and a sleeping bag with me. I slept on the concrete floor last night.
“I have eight pins in my legs and a spine injury and am very sore this morning. But I am adamant that I am not leaving.
“I am Manus’ voice now. His next of kin. I want to keep his name sacred. He was just a child.”
Linda Nash, whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, says the presence of her loved ones name alongside British soldiers who died is ‘hurtful’.
“This is another thing that keeps me awake at night,” she said. “It is wrong. I am staying here until I see them physically take the exhibition down. I want to see them delete my brother’s name from it.
“We are here to hold a peaceful protest. We don’t want any confrontation at all. We are just sitting down. We have even been giving tourists an explanation as to what we are doing when they asked.
“We are not going to make a fuss, we’re just going to live here until they take it down. If we are arrested, we will let the police take us out, but as soon as we are released we will be going back in. This has to end now.”
In early June the museum received a petition of over 1,000 names in protest at the display, with a promise that it would respond.
“We have been repeatedly rebuffed and can withstand the insult to the memory of our relatives no longer,” the women said.
“We will remain inside the Museum in peaceful protest until the offending exhibit has been permanently removed.
“The management at the museum have been given since the beginning of June to respond to our concerns and have repeatedly sought to ignore the hurt they have caused or to delay a mature response. They have pushed us to this action and we will now see it through.”
Republican Sinn Fein offered its solidarity to the two women and claimed Sinn Fein of being behind the exhibition and the museum “by proxy through its membership”.
They accused Sinn Fein of rewriting history, “whitewashing the bloodstained pavements and trying to cover the cracks of this abnormal society.
“Included in this process was their attempt to end the Bloody Sunday marches despite the fact that there still has not been a single conviction against any member of the British murder squad who carried out the execution of innocent civilians on that day.”
“They have seen it appropriate now to include those innocent people killed on Bloody Sunday along with other victims of British murder squads such as Manus Deery, in an electronic memorial with the same people who murdered them, also there are IRA volunteers included on this memorial.”