Placenames and identity

Sir, – Ronan McGreevy in his article "Why Sinn Féin won't call the State by its name" (Analysis, February 24th) writes that "the reasons for the convoluted language are not always apparent to many people in the Republic".

Sensitivity towards unionism was shown as the State stopped using the term “Six Counties” when Seán Lemass became taoiseach. Unfortunately, the same consideration did not seem to extend to northern nationalists as the term “Northern Ireland” was no less objectionable to them than “Six Counties” was to unionists.

Even today, it is not only Sinn Féiners who refuse to refer to the place as “Northern Ireland”.

Prior to 2009, only Derry could be recorded on Irish passports for those born in the city or county. In 2009 the then-minister for foreign affairs, in considering the request to have Londonderry recorded as well as Derry, said “that he took into account the terms of the Good Friday Agreement . . . recognising the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British”.

Alas, this sensitivity has not yet reached the National Driving Licence Service. Last December, the NDLS actually changed the place of birth on my previous driving licence from Ireland, to “Northern Ireland” on my current licence.

In my subsequent correspondence with the NDLS, I am informed that “it does not relate to a person’s national identity or citizenship”. The British Home Office, as the recent de Souza judgement has demonstrated, may beg to differ.

I have twice asked the NDLS to identify the person or organisation who took the decision to make this change – the NDLS, the Road Safety Authority, the Minister for Transport, the Cabinet or some other body – and what law does it break by leaving “Ireland” as my place of birth? The questions were ignored.

I was informed that “the place of birth of Northern Ireland as now recorded on your driver record is correct and cannot be amended”.

The Belfast Agreement sought to extend the notion of identity, not curtail it as the NDLS has done in this case.

A bit of goodwill and sensitivity would resolve the matter and no one would be discommoded by it.

I will continue to pursue this matter when the new government is in place. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 15.

A chara, – When Micheál Martin talked about Sinn Féin “coming down here” in one of the pre-election leaders’ debates, many northern nationalists in Sinn Féin and beyond found it typical of the hurtful ways some in the south try to exclude us from full participation in the life of the nation.

Ronan McGreevy might have considered these feelings when he wrote about the “linguistic contortions” (choices?) Sinn Féin makes when referring to the southern State.

He quotes a couple of bemused academics but doesn’t bother to talk to any of the ordinary people who make the same choices every day.

The glee some commentators take in insisting that the 26-county state “owns” the name Ireland is evidence of a very inward-looking, self-satisfied mindset.

I want us to aspire to be an open, generous, 21st-century nation which actively includes residents from all backgrounds, all communities in the north and the wider diaspora.

Anyone trying to enforce terminological purity should consider whether they’re encouraging that vision or hindering it. – Yours, etc,