“What kind of Derry do you want?” The question was asked and left hanging there, in the air. The location? The closed-down Rialto cinema in the heart of Londonderry, or Derry, as it is also known. The questioner? Lou Tice, to a group of 350 of Derry’s citizens during a one-day seminar. The response? Stunned silence. “I don’t think the citizenry of Derry had ever pondered their ability to take charge of their own, and their city’s futures,” said Tice some 20-odd years later.
Lou and Diane Tice had been invited to Derry by the Northern Ireland Business Innovation Centre (NORIBIC) at the suggestion of CEO Colm Cavanaugh, who had met Lou and Diane in the spring of 1988. That September, upon their arrival as new friends to Derry, Lou and Diane were taken on a “tour” of the city – military checkpoints, derelict, bombed and abandoned buildings, empty streets and a desolate city center – all the results of the “troubles” that had begun in 1969.
Until the late 12th century, the island of Ireland had been a tapestry of small kingdoms with fluctuating sizes and strengths. With the Norman invasion of 1169-71 as a preamble, and the Treaty of Windsor in 1175, Henry II of England was recognized as “lord” of Ireland. From that point forward, English activity in Irish politics grew in strength and effect. Alongside the political effects came the religious differences, especially after Henry VIII of England broke with the Catholic Church in Rome in the 16th century. Over the ensuing centuries, lines were drawn all across Ireland, with the labels “Catholic” and “Protestant” standing in for “nationalist” and “unionist.”
In 1922, 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties left the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, known then as the Irish Free State. By 1949, this area became known as the Republic of Ireland. The remaining six northeastern counties, which chose to stay under British rule, became known as Northern Ireland. It is in these counties where the clashes of Catholics and Protestants revealed themselves to the world as “the troubles.” In the ensuing 35 years, there were approximately 3,500 political killings in Northern Ireland – about 350 of those were in Derry.
“What kind of Derry do you want?” According to Cavanaugh, that question “was like open-heart surgery for me personally, and for a lot of people there. I know that they, like me, wanted to clamor against the ‘normality’ of life in Derry at the time. ‘NO! NO! NO! This is absolutely and most definitely NOT the kind of city I want!’” The previous 30 to 40 years had seen dozens of individual community organizations try, and sometimes fail, to repair the iniquities that beset the city and the nation, overwhelmed by the social and economic challenges. It was time for Derry to take the “willing acceptance of responsibility” to make the city what its people wanted it to be.
Soon after Lou’s speech at the Rialto, Pat Given began running Investment in Excellence® seminars throughout Northern Ireland on behalf of The Pacific Institute UK. Pat had facilitated to 3,500 employees at South Scotland Electricity Board, and once he retired, he made it his mission to work toward making Northern Ireland a model for the rest of the world. While Cavanaugh and Given never saw Investment in Excellence® as the cure for all the ills in Northern Ireland, they did see it as a foundation upon which to build a positive future. Of the 110,000 population in Derry at the time, 34,000 individuals participated in the IIE program. A critical mass had formed, which allowed Derry to take that next step – integrated schools.
A simple idea: bring Protestant and Catholic kids together in an educational setting, and let them learn more than just “book learning” – let them learn to work together, away from the confrontations that had caused such hatred and mistrust during the “troubles.” In 1991, with the Foyle Trust for Integrated Education leading the way, Lou and Diane were involved in the founding of the first of these integrated schools, Oakgrove Integrated Primary. In the next two years, an integrated high school and nursery were founded. Once founded, these schools have become part of the public-school system.
Since 1991, Cavanaugh has been working on a neighborhood community development project, the Foyle Project, which launched a half-a-billion-pound ($750 million US) investment plan for Derry. Designed to bring 8,000 new jobs to the area over 12 years, the project will dramatically reshape both banks of the River Foyle. “It will open up a whole new era for the north west in the 21st century,” says Cavanaugh.While there is still plenty of work to do, including coming to consensus on what to name their city and getting the citizens comfortable with tearing down the “peace wall” which separates Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods, Cavanaugh is optimistic. In a message to Lou, he said, “So after nearly 14 years, I can tell you that this, with all its promises in terms of economic development and job creation and reconciliation, is a good part of the answer to that question you challenged us with that distant September.”