Protesting pensioners sleep on museum's concrete floor in row over exhibition

By Leona O'Neill

Two pensioners who lost loved ones in the Troubles 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 controversial exhibition.

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 personnel - flash up on a screen on one visual exhibition at the Bogside Museum, owned by the Bloody Sunday Trust, which opened again in February after a multi-million pound redevelopment project.

Yesterday afternoon, 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 lost their lives in the Troubles 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.”

Bloody Sunday Trust Chairman, Robin Percival said the protesters 'were sitting in and not moving' and that he had staff were keeping a presence at the museum overnight.

“At the moment we are keeping a presence there, members of staff and trustees are staying overnight,” he said. “We will have to see in the long term how we will handle it, because I can see this going on for some time.”

The Museum of Free Derry is based at Glenfada Park in Derry's Bogside. It opened in 2007 in order to tell the story of what happened in the city during the period of 1968 to 1972 including the civil rights era, Battle of the Bogside, Internment, Bloody Sunday and Operation Motorman.

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