A controversy has arises after it emerged that loyalists from Derry are to be allowed to register their birth place as ‘Londonderry’ on Irish passports.
Northerners have an automatic right to receive an Irish passport under the Irish constitution. The passports are popular among unionists who wish to hold two passports for a number of reasons, not least the perceived advantages of the Irish passport over the British passport in terms of ‘neutrality’ and access to travel visas.
Unionists prefer the call Derry by the title ‘Londonderry’, a name imposed in the 17th century following British colonisation.
Last week the 26 County Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin said the decision to recognise the name ‘Londonderry’ followed from what he said was “the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British”.
Local Sinn Féin representative Martina Anderson welcomed the move. She said the fact more and more Unionists were applying for Irish passports was to be welcomed. She equated the move with unionists “becoming citizens”, although citizenship is automatic for all those born on the island of Ireland.
“As republicans we fully understand the need to persuade unionists of the desirability of a shared, united Ireland and to ensure that unionists are comfortable and secure in a new Ireland,” she said.
“It is their Ireland also.
“Within a shared Ireland, an integrated Ireland, an Ireland in which unionists have equal ownership. Unionists would be citizens, not mere subjects. They would have rights, not concessions. They would belong. They would be welcome.
“Therefore issues such as place names on passports should be seen in the context of ensuring the Unionists tradition is comfortable and secure within that new shared, United Ireland.”
The announcement was condemned by Republican Sinn Féin. A spokesperson called it an assault on Irish national identity.
He said: “Are they now to allow the use of King’s County and Queen’s County to please their British masters, or are the people of County Derry to be singled out for this reprehensible treatment?
“This decision makes about as much sense as allowing the former name for County Derry, ie County Coleraine, to be recorded on the passport.”
Meanwhile, the Dublin government has launched a crackdown on northerners claiming social welfare across the border.
Border checkpoints are to target those living in the Six Counties but crossing the border and ‘signing on’ in border towns and villages, particularly in Donegal.
It was claimed that thousands of northerners are collecting payments which, in some cases, are almost four times the benefit payouts by the British government.
Social welfare inspectors are working with gardai and British customs officers to target the so-called “dole tourists”.