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Saturday 25 January 2020

Towns united 20 years on, but troubles remain

Greg Harkin

On November 19, 1971, Brigid Carr was walking to work on the Donegal side of the Border, near the bridge which separates Lifford from Strabane, when shots rang out.

An IRA sniper shooting at the massive British army security base which separated the North from the Republic hit Brigid, a 27-year-old waitress at the Inter-County Hotel in Lifford, and fatally wounded her.

A native of Donegal's Fanad peninsula, Ms Carr was the 184th person to die in the Troubles; another innocent life lost. Her death came just three months after Eamonn McDevitt, a 28-year-old Catholic from Strabane, was shot dead in controversial circumstances by British troops.

Today the checkpoint, the British army on the streets, and the Provisionals have all gone, but the violence hasn't disappeared. Last Thursday night, dissident terrorists shot a 21-year-old Strabane man in the legs in a so-called 'punishment' shooting, the latest victim of the kangaroo courts which still exist in the North.

Traffic flows freely now, but people on both sides of that bridge believe their towns have been left behind.

"Lifford has suffered in so many ways. The Border we have now is a lovely river and a lovely scenic spot, but it has never been developed," said Eugene McCusker, a volunteer on the Riverine Project, a bid by people from both sides of the Border to regenerate the area.

"This is the capital town of Donegal, but we don't even have a bank anymore. The Defence Forces barracks has gone and where once we had customs officers and more than 30 gardai because of the Troubles, they are all gone and that has had an economic impact."

Dolores O'Kelly, who helped convert Lifford's old court house into a museum, said: "The Riverine project was set up with a focus on developing the river front and the town, but it hasn't developed. We've fallen by the wayside. Lifford is still losing out."

Theresa Stewart is 36 and lives and works with young people in Strabane. She works closely with Charlene Logue (50) from the Lifford side of the Border.

"We lived for decades in a town with the highest deprivation in Britain and the highest unemployment rate and, despite the end of the Troubles, that is still the same today," says Ms Stewart.

"We're still dealing with legacy issues from our past and divisions remain. That hasn't gone away."

"There is a feeling the peace has been taken for granted. People from all sides think that. In Donegal our funding has been cut by 60pc.

"Things are better because the conflict is over, but the governments need to wake up and support us," said Ms Logue.

Irish Independent

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