A journalist who has reported on Northern Ireland since the outbreak of the Troubles in August 1968 is retiring after 33 years with the Press Association.
Ireland editor for the news agency, Deric Henderson, started his journalistic career with the Tyrone Constitution in Omagh, Co.Tyrone, just as the first stones and petrol bombs were being thrown on the streets of Belfast and Derry after the campaign for civil rights was launched.
Henderson covered virtually every major terrorist-related incident and political development since then, including the jailing of the Shankill Butchers in the mid 1970s, the Republican hunger strikes at the Maze Prison in 1980 and 1981 and Margaret Thatcher and the Republic’s Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985. He was also in the room at Stormont for the announcement of the Good Friday peace accord in 1998 following a marathon political process which had him filing extensively from London, Dublin and Washington.
A decade earlier Henderson reported on the the SAS killing three members of the IRA in Gibraltar, a subsequent grenade attack on mourners at Milltown Cemetery by Loyalist Michael Stone in which three men were killed and over 60 injured and then the murder of two off duty British soldiers dragged from their car, stripped, beaten and then shot in west Belfast after accidentally straying into a funeral path.
He said the seven days in October 1993 when the IRA killed eight Protestants after a bomb exploded prematurely on the Shankill Road, Belfast, and the inevitable retaliation when Loyalists shot dead eight customers at a Catholic-owned bar in the village of Greysteel, near Derry, was the most violent week of all.
He said: “Other people died that week as well. It was all so random and indiscriminate. Paramilitaries were killing for the sake of killing and that was probably the lowest for me and many other journalists at that time. There was such a sense of hopelessness.”
However secret negotiations between the British government and the IRA were already underway. Talks involving most of the political parties in Belfast ended with the Good Friday deal and eventually Ian Paisley made peace with his sworn enemies in Sinn Fein.
Henderson said: “We never thought it was possible, but it proved miracles do happen. The situation in Northern Ireland isn’t perfect. Political progress moves at a snail’s pace. Compared to what it used to be like, we are in a good place, but we should be in a much, much better place and hopefully the pace at Stormont will quicken.
“I’ve had an unbelievable time with PA and worked with the finest news editor (Teilo Colley) in London. I’ve had a front row seat for all these years. It hasn’t been easy at times, but I’m leaving with some wonderful memories, and maybe this is an appropriate time for me to move on and change direction."
Henderson, who was journalist of the year at the 2010 CIPR Northern Ireland press and broadacasting awards, is planning to set up a media consultancy business when he steps down on 31 March.
PA editor Jonathan Grun said: “Deric Henderson has had a brilliant career at the Press Association, covering massive stories for more than three decades. He has had many scoops, has won awards and has earned the respect of colleagues and customers alike.
"He is a legend in his own newsroom and in many others served by the Press Association. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone at PA when I say it has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with him."