Irish Republican News · December 20, 2014
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Derry name issue reignites


The word Derry is to be removed from the wording on a plaque in the city after the SDLP sided with unionists on the issue in a move which could revive the long-running row on the city’s name.

Derry (‘Doire Colmcille’ or simply ‘Doire’ in Irish) was renamed ‘Londonderry’ in the 17th century by the British Crown in order to encourage settlers from England who would be more supportive of its colonial efforts.

However, the area has always had a predominately nationalist population. ‘Londonderry City Council’ was formed in 1972 -- but the name was changed in 1984 to Derry City Council by a nationalist majority on the council.

At the same time the nationalist SDLP, which was in the majority, said it did not intend to revert to the original name, and the city’s name still remains officially ‘Londonderry’ -- at least according to the British government. However, the vast majority of its citizens, and most national and international media, normally refer to it by its original name.

This week, the plaque for the refurbishment of the Guildhall, Derry’s City Hall, was expected to include the official title ‘Mayor of Derry Kevin Campbell’. This was in reference to the Sinn Fein Councillor for Creggan who held the post at the time of the unveiling in June 2013.

But DUP Councillor Drew Thompson had proposed “that we remove the word Derry in the interests of community relations and equality and in acknowledgement of the minority in this city”.

The SDLP’s Gerard Diver agreed, noting that the word Derry was already featured elsewhere on the plaque, adding: 
“We would be content to say ‘this building was opened by the Mayor of the city Kevin Campbell’.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Paul Fleming said that the matter had “unfortunately been turned into a political football”, and branded the arguments put forward for the change “ludicrous”.

“The vast majority of people in this city, Catholic, Protestant and dissenter refer to it as Derry. Kevin Campbell was mayor for everyone and saw himself as Mayor of Derry.”

Despite opposition from all nine Sinn Fein councillors, the DUP proposal was adopted by the unionists and SDLP members present.

There were testy exchanges in the chamber afterwards regarding evidence of a new unionist/SDLP cooperation in the city.

DUP Councillor Joe Miller said: “Thank goodness there’s a Westminster election coming up”, to which Sinn Fein Councillor Elisha McCallion replied: “You wouldn’t half know, would you?”

But it is feared the move could unravel years of work to restore the city’s common name.

Also this week, unionist councillors mounted a legal challenge to the name of the new merged ‘supercouncil’, Derry City and Strabane District Council. Unionists claimed the decision to use the title Derry in the new council’s name adversely affected them.

A ‘Calling Process’ -- a new and as yet unused piece of legalisation where a council decision can be challenged so long as there are at least six signatories -- has been issued. All ten unionist councillors on the shadow council signed an objection to the council being called Derry City and Strabane District.

This means that the name of the council will once again have to be discussed and agreed. However, it will likely now require at least 80% agreement and it must be across all parties.

DUP councillor Gary Middleton said nationalists “tried to railroad this through”, but Sinn Fein councillor Michael Cooper denied this.

“We put the motion to call the council Derry City and Strabane District seven days before the meeting where it was passed took place and our door was open to the DUP to come and discuss it at any time,” he said.

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