By Martin McGuinness
Derry is my home town and I have a special interest in this competition (which seeks to choose the UK City of Culture 2013).
I have always been extremely proud of the city and its people. The way the local communities have been pulling together in support of the bid has been impressive, but not surprising.
Being short-listed has given the city a new lease of life. Out and about you cannot fail to notice a buzz around the city and a growing sense of pride and community spirit. People are now beginning to believe Derry could actually win the competition and recognize the potential social and economic, as well as cultural benefits, that this could bring, not only for the Derry city area, but the whole of the North West and indeed beyond it.
As I have said before, we have so much to offer. Sometimes we can all be guilty of taking it for granted. We have a history stretching across centuries from the time St. Columba.
The city walls that encircle the old city center make it the most complete walled city in Europe. And in what is a lure to visitors in more modern times, we have the murals in the Bogside.
The history of our city reflects so many backgrounds and traditions and it is important that they are all given expression in this bid.
All in all, we have a rich and varied heritage: museums, theatres and galleries added to that a thriving musical and literary scene.
We now have a real opportunity to showcase Derry’s arts and cultural heritage to international visitors, to build on what has already been achieved and to promote a city that is welcoming, safe and inclusive of all, where visitors will want to return to time and time again, where investors will want to work and do business, where people will want to live, work and socialize.
Events such as the Jazz Festival are leading the way in making the vision a reality. The ninth Derry City Jazz festival just recently concluded is proof that we are on the right track. It was a huge success bringing thousands of people on to the city streets to enjoy five days of music, craic and great entertainment.
This is the image of Derry that we want to promote and what we want visitors to take away and remember – an image of a welcoming, confident, progressive and diverse city.
Derry has other festivals planned such as the African Day Festival and throughout the year many local communities have féiltí/festivals which attract widespread support. These all give a flavor of what the city has to offer.
Throughout history, Derry has produced many distinguished and accomplished people, but in more recent times we have had two Nobel Prize winners, Seamus Heaney and John Hume, playwright Brian Friel, musical talents such as Phil Coulter and the Undertones to name but a few.
Need I mention Dana, Nadine Coyle, Bronagh Gallagher and Roma Downey? They are all known worldwide and are great ambassadors. So in that regard, we are well ahead of the competition.
The benefits of a successful bid could be enormous and extend beyond the city itself. Therefore, we all have a vested interest in supporting the bid team in their worthy endeavor.
The first minister and I, along with our Executive colleagues, are fully supportive of the bid and will do whatever we can to help achieve a successful outcome.
I would like to add a special word of thanks to Ilex, which, as some of you will know, is the city’s regeneration company and which the first minister and I are proud to co-sponsor and co-fund along with DSD.
Roy McNulty and his team are doing great work on the new Plan, at Ebrington, on the new foot and cycle bridge, all in partnership with Derry City Council.
Success in this competition would be a fitting tribute to such a historic, important and vibrant – and dare I say it “legenderry” city.
Martin McGuinness is Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive