Study finds complex reasons for Derry Protestant exodus

The new academic study of the Protestant migration from Derry's west bank during the Troubles was published by the Pat Finucane Centre human rights' group.
Seamus McKinney

THE reason for the mass exodus of Protestants from Derry's west bank was much more complex than intimidation by republicans and nationalists, a new report has claimed.

Over a 20-year period from 1969, four out of every five Protestants (80 per cent) living on the west bank moved either to Derry's Waterside or further afield.

Unionist and Protestant leaders frequently put the migration down to direct and indirect intimidation. However, a new study – published yesterday by the Pat Finucane Centre human rights' group – concluded there were also other reasons.

Compiled by academics, Dr Helen McLaughlin from Derry and Dr Ulf Hansson from Sweden, the report focused on a number of previous studies. It found that as well as security and the Troubles, those who left the west bank cited a change in the control of the city as well as housing, economic development and unionist and civil rights' leadership as reasons.

The authors said: “The evidence shows that a number of complex and often inter-related “push” and “pull” factors contributed to Protestant migration from the west bank of Derry/Londonderry from 1969 to 1980 in particular.”

The report noted that much of the evidence reviewed pointed to safety and security issues as factors for leaving.

“Evidence, in particularly experiential evidence, shows that direct intimidation did happen, and where it did, it had a major, and in some cases, immediate impact.”

However, ongoing violence and killings also created an “atmosphere of fear” in the city which caused people to move.

The authors said: “Factors such as the instability caused by major events such as internment and Bloody Sunday played a significant part.”

They concluded that the city council's move from unionist to nationalist control and the reform of the housing system to prevent discrimination were also factors as well as the focus of economic development west of the River Bann.

Sources suggested that the then unionist leadership contributed to a Protestant feeling of alienation, with some leaders invoking fear and stirring up anti-Catholic and anti-civil rights feelings. The “narrative of loss” among Protestants was also adopted by unionist leaders.

General secretary of the Apprentice Boys of Derry, Billy Moore – who attended the launch – welcomed recognition of the Protestant exodus but felt they would not return to the west bank.

“It's alienation that would prevent it. There is also no reason for the Protestant community to consider moving back; they have become settled in the Waterside.”

Former deputy head of the Policing Board, Denis Bradley said the report had wider implications about the north's divided society. Mr Bradley said society needed to examine the issues contained in the report and seek solutions.

“I'm not too sure that that's going to happen in the short to medium term but I do think we should make gestures towards the fact that we are divided and that the way it will resolve itself is by the bigger political and bigger sectarian issues being sorted out,” he said.

The full report is available on the Pat Finucane Centre website at

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