Council votes to rename Londonderry as Derry

Unionists accuse councillors of ‘sectarian’ behaviour, claim it will divide community

 A road sign on the A6 in Northern Ireland where the ‘London’ of ‘Londonderry’ marked out. Derry City and Strabane District Council has voted in favour of changing the official name of Londonderry to Derry. Photograph: Getty Images

A road sign on the A6 in Northern Ireland where the ‘London’ of ‘Londonderry’ marked out. Derry City and Strabane District Council has voted in favour of changing the official name of Londonderry to Derry. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Unionists in Northern Ireland have accused Derry City and Strabane District Council of “sectarian” behaviour after it voted in favour of changing the official name of Londonderry to Derry.

At the Guildhall on Thursday a vote to change the name of the city was passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent councillors, despite opposition from the minority unionist group on the nationalist-controlled council.

The council is now contacting Stormont’s SDLP Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, who is from Derry himself, on how it might proceed with the change.

Derry City and Strabane District Council is seeking clarification from Stormont on how it could go about officially changing the name of the city but this is likely to be challenged by unionists at every stage.

The London prefix was added to Derry when the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613.

Previous attempts for an official name change have failed. In 1984 the council changed its name from Londonderry to Derry but the city continued to officially be called Londonderry.

In 2007, after a judicial review was brought by what was then known as Derry City Council, a High Court judge ruled that Northern Ireland’s second city should remain as Londonderry.

At the time Mr Justice Weatherup said only legislation or Royal prerogative could change the city’s name.

Sinn Fein councillor Eric McGinley said the 2015 proposal was not about airbrushing London from the history of the city but rather creating “a clear brand, one single name, one single identity” to promote it.

But Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) councillor David Ramsey said the proposal creates “sectarian tension” while Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Foyle spokeswoman Julia Kee branded the “latest attempt by Sinn Fein” to seek an official name change as “divisive and unnecessary”.

Ms McKee believes the idea “sends a message to the minority unionist community that they are not welcome”.

“There are very real problems in our city which need to be urgently addressed but the name is not one of them,” she said.

Ms McKee added: “Many unionists are prepared to use ‘Derry’ as a shorthand term in everyday speech, but they are in no doubt that for official purposes the full name of the city is Londonderry.

“This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise which respects and reflects the historic links between this city and one of the world’s greatest cities.”