THE prevailing social norm in Northern Ireland these days is for ruling politicians to give us all a talk much akin to Harold MacMillan’s we’ve ‘never had it so good’ speech.
All human situations and conditions are of course comparative. The fabled and somewhat untrue ‘whining’ attitude of people in this city reaches wide around the globe. But, in comparison to many places we have very little to complain about.
However, a scan of the 1975 Londonderry Sentinel archive reveals a depressingly familiar string of themes, proving that some of the things we have complained about were in fact correct.
As far as the Sentinel was concerned the year began with major concerns that the economic outlook for 1975 was not good. The front page article read: “The outlook on the industrial front in Londonderry shows signs of causing anxiety in several sectors and jobs maybe fewer in 1975-apart from the predicted decline in the shirt making trade in the first half of the year.”
But, the article went on to quote some employers in the city who complained they couldn’t get workers to apply for the jobs they had on offer. Unemployment figures in the city and district topped the 3,000 mark but the Sentinel suggested that of the 1,000 registered unemployed construction workers it was possible that many were drawing the dole and crossing the border each morning to work there.
The Sentinel said: “The usual response to this query (‘doing the double’) is a derisory smile and the impression is that it is almost commonplace due largely to a lack of a full investigative procedure.”
Yet, despite this it appeared that back in the 70s there was a reward for showing up at work: “In Londonderry, in accordance with the general agreement in Northern Ireland the public are paying 200 manual workers up to £1,000 to encourage good time keeping at the rate of £1 per day for each man who showed up in time for work.”
The paper also ran a small piece from the Bogside Community Association who stated: “There has been a “regrettable drift” in population which if it were to continue would leave the West Bank as one large ghetto.
The association said: “What was once the Mecca of the loyalist tradition was becoming largely abandoned. In the minds of many repartition had begun by a line being drawn up the middle of the River Foyle.”
Elsewhere, the Shirt, Collar and Tie Manufacturers Federation wrote a scathing letter to Prime Minister Harold Wilson expressing their ‘complete bafflement’ at the rate of cheap imported garments being allowed into the UK and consequently killing of the Irish and UK trade.
They urged Wilson to stop “shilly-shallying and take action.”
In the era where trade unions were at the height of their power, just a few years before their nemesis Margaret Thatcher ascended to power, local chairman of the National Union of Journalists Larry Doherty struck out at the local council for conducting some business behind closed doors at the exclusion of the press.
He noted two occasions in 1974 when the press had been excluded completely-once on a discussion on internment and another over the screening of The Exorcist in the city. The paper later noted that the city fathers previewed the film at a local cinema where immediately afterwards they took a vote on the issue. The result of the vote was a 12 to 4 ballot in favour of not showing the infamous horror movie.
In other Council business it was noted that they had scrapped a plan to construct a boating lake at the new Temple more Sports Complex on the Buncrana Road.
It being 1975 and also in Northern Ireland issues of religion were never too far away from the surface. In was in this manner that MP for Londonderry, William Ross informed Limavady District Council that he would not be attending a conference on local government at Ma gee College because it was taking place on the Sabbath.
“I have been brought up to work six days and not seven,” he said.
Meanwhile back in the city’s council, unionist representative Roy Bond criticised the spending levels in local authorities. He said: “I have never seen money being spent in the way it is as present in local government. They are spending it like a drunken sailor on a binge.”
Commenting on a cross border attack in County Donegal the local UDA said they would not rule out further action against Green castle fishing boats if fishermen persisted in smuggling guns for the IRA. Two boats suffered serious damage when fire bombs detonated on them. Further damage was avoided when a passing Garda patrol spotted the flames.
When searched, 17 of the remaining 18 vessels in the fleet were found to have incendiary devices aboard.
Not only were the UDA content to accuse the Donegal fishermen of smuggling weapons they also said that two ships had “rendezvoused” with a Russian submarine off the north coast of Ulster and brought ashore eight Czechoslovakian agents to help the IRA with their war.
Derry and Raphoe gained a new Bishop in 1975 with the enthronement of Rev Dr Robert Henry Alexander Eames who at that point, the Sentinel reported was the youngest ever Bishop within the Church of Ireland. Dr Eames later became known as Dr Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland and a pivotal player in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.
Again, reminiscent of recent weeks, the Sentinel reported on potentially tense times at Limavady Borough Council.
With the headline:’Heat? But no smoke’-the paper said: “Arguments at future meetings of Limavady Council, may become clouded but it certainly will not be through a cloud of smoke. The council has agreed that members will not smoke during their council meetings.
“The decision was taken after a letter was received from The Ulster Cancer Foundation asking for support for their efforts to reduce smoking in public places.”
The ‘new’ Fountain estate was voted the tidiest in Londonderry as part of the Civic Festival. The paper ran the story of one if the estate’s oldest residents, 85-year-old Mary Jane (Jennie) Trotter who was born in Artillery Street and lived in or around the Fountain all her life. The fascinating part of her story was that her father was builder Joseph McDermott who was killed in the belfry of St Columb’s Cathedral on the day after the funeral of Cecil Frances Alexander. The bell had not been sounding correctly and having gone in to take a look. An instruction was misunderstood during the adjustments and the bell was suddenly released, struck him and inflicted fatal injuries.
Mrs Trotter was a five-year-old pupil in the Cathedral School at the time. Her family lived in Little Albert Street at the time.
Her new home in the estate was on the site of the house of the Prison Governor at the time Derry Jail still existed. In fact her daughter, married the son of the Governor.
A full page advertisement in the paper heralded the final of Miss Sentinel on the following Saturday night. Hoescht Sports and Social Club in Limavady was the venue where music was to be provided by Tommy Fee and the Cajun Sound. Entertainment, entry to the event and a turkey and ham supper cost £1.50. The woman eventually crowned Miss Sentinel 1975 received a £20 cash prize and a years supply of Berkshire tights.
Back in Londonderry, a sad sign of the times was the proud boast by the British Army that they had succeeded in erectingthe highest sangar in Ulster-possibly in the world, as the paper reported, at Creggan. The look out post stood forty feet high.
Sadly familiar news too was on the infrastructure front a Sentinel reporter wrote of the “quizzical expression” on the face of a British minister when he asked him when the motorway from the city to Belfast would be built.
Minister John D Concannon, according to our reporter said: “Motorway to Londonderry-we have no plans for that.”
Depressingly familiar too was a warning by Strand Road Presbyterian Church Minister. Rev Bratton warned that the city centre will die if people are not encouraged to come back into it at nights. He said the city was in danger and “we will quickly find it will become the haunt of the scum of the city and no decent person will venture into it alone.”
The Sentinel itself underwent a change of its own in October, 1975, with the first use of colour pictures in the paper.