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Bombs and protests failed to diminish political buzz

Eugene McMenamin with the famous painting of the 108 Assembly members elected after the Good Friday Agreement.

ONE of the first Assembly members for West Tyrone has spoken of the buzz and excitement which he felt following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Back in April 1998 Eugene McMenamin had spent only a year as alocal councillor for the SDLP in Strabane.

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And he explains the sense of optimism which followed the successful end to the Stormont talks was the motivation for him to seek even higher political office.

It was the start of a roller-coaster journey for the Strabane man that led to attacks on his home as the subsequent debate on the future of policing heightened tensions in the town.

“There was a very lively public meeting about policing in the Fir Trees Hotel.

“During it someone shouted that they would now go to my house rather than the RUC station and for months afterwards there were protests at my home.

“We were subjected to several bomb scares, there was graffiti daubed on the walls, my car was doused by a petrol bomb in the middle of the night and I was spat at and pelted with eggs.

“On two occasions about 200 people staged protests outside my home.

“It was only the strength of my wife Kathleen, and my sons that kept me going.”

Although, the former MLA wasn’t directly involved in the talks, he recalls being the classic ‘armchair politician’ as the events unfolded on the hill in Stormont.

“I watched the coverage of the  talks at Stormont on TV at Easter 1998. Seeing that deal being reached was just tremendous and definitely prompted my decision to seek the party’ssupport to stand as an MLA,” he added.

“There was a real buzz around local politics at that time, and a belief that the nationalist and unionist communities could work together.

“The Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent referendum brought about a massive change.

“I was young, and really excited that the future was bright and we could make some really good ideas a reality.”

A famous painting of each of the 108 new Assembly members was presented to each of them and now hangs proudly in Eugene McMenamin’s house.

“It’s unfortunate that many of the issues that were on the agenda back in 1998 are still unresolved. Towns like Strabane and Omagh are still in need of investment and the A5 dual-carriageway remains unbuilt,” Mr McMenamin continued.

“I met President Clinton and I’ll always look back on those years with a great sense of pride and fond memories.”

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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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