The High Court in Belfast has ruled that Derry City Council must use the British colonial name ‘Londonderry’ for the city.
Justice Weatherup ruled that the city remains known as Londonderry regardless of the local 1984 decision to drop the artificial suffix ‘London’ from the city council’s name.
The council had sought a declaration about the legal position of the city’s name in April 2004.
The judge said just because the council name had changed did not mean the name specified by Royal Charter granted by King James in 1613 could be altered.
He said the name could only be changed through legislation or by Royal prerogative.
Justice Weatherup’s ruling was welcomed by unionists in Derry, with DUP MP Gregory Campbell saying nationalists should now put the issue behind them.
“For 23 years it has made us the subject not only of division but of derision,” he said.
But nationalists said the ruling did not change the council’s determination to change the name of the city to Derry.
Sinn Féin councillor Kevin Campbell said a council decision that the name be changed remained in place.
“We will be insisting that the city goes down whatever is the next avenue to address the issue,” he said.
“This politicisation of the name has led to a plethora of names being used including the Maiden city, the Walled city and even Stroke city.
“This has caused confusion in terms of marketing the city as a viable brand in terms of tourism or attracting inward investment.”
Derry City Council described the ruling as important. A spokeswoman said it provided the clarity needed for any future decisions or actions.
“This was always the council’s position. The judgment will be examined in full and presented to Derry City Council for further consideration and discussion,” she said.
Thousands of people are expected to attend the 35th annual commemoration march in Derry tomorrow of the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre.
The march, which starts in Derry’s Creggan at 2.30am, will retrace the steps of the original demonstration, ending with a rally at Free Derry Corner.
In advance of the event, the new museum of Free Derry was opened in the city this weekend by former Guantanamo Bay inmate Moazzam Begg and Derry mayor Helen Quigley.
Housing a permanent exhibition detailing events in Derry from the October 5 1968 civil rights march through to Bloody Sunday, it attracted huge interest when it opened on a temporary basis last year.
Among the exhibits are a jacket ripped by bullet holes, a belt nicked by a fatal shot and clothing used to stem blood from dying Bloody Sunday victims.
Exhibits from the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 include a garage receipt for #65 in payment for petrol to be used for petrol bombs at the height of the battle.
Project manager Adrian Kerr said it was the culmination of 10 years’ work by the Bloody Sunday Trust.
“It means that now we can tell the entire story whereas before we only had room for the Bloody Sunday exhibits,” he said.