Can Derry tolerate Protestants?

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The decision by the Foyle and Londonderry College board of governors to drop the ‘Londonderry’ continues to make waves, with a Facebook site and an online petition now set up to oppose it. One of the campaigners, CRAIG ARBUCKLE of the Londonderry Cultural Awareness Group, gives his view.

Foyle & Londonderry College board of governors has made the bizarre decision to drop the word “Londonderry” from the school’s name.

In an article carried in the ‘Derry Journal’ (Friday 10th June), the school principal, Jack Magill, provided readership with a list of seemingly laudable and sensible reasons for this change of nomenclature. However, those possessed of a modicum of intelligence and background knowledge will be quick to note the most glaring of omissions form this list of justifications: the desire to make the school more palatable to those from a RC/Nationalist/ Republican background!

From the headline to the re-orientating final paragraph, the Journal article sought to present this decision as an amiable and modernising step, in line with the thinking of all the interested parties. Naturally, this involved some flexibility in the interpretation and presentation of information.

Let’s start with the headline, “New crest unveiled as Foyle College reverts to its old name”.

Hmmm... wrong! The present school in the city, colloquially and affectionately referred to as ‘Foyle’, is not the same Foyle College that existed prior to the 1976 merger with Londonderry High School. This new school was named ‘Foyle & Londonderry College’ to reflect the contribution of both institutions to its formation. This was a new school and therefore ‘Foyle’ is not reverting to its old name, but rather dropping any reference to the High School that was so integral to its creation. Former pupils of Londonderry High School have rightly expressed their indignation at the prospect of having their school’s identity erased completely from that of the present incarnation.

So, why is this affront to former pupils taking place then, Mr Magill?

“Foyle College is how we are known across the city, and the Governors felt that we should use that name in future in all contexts.”

Right, I see; because people across the city refer to F&LC as ‘Foyle College’, it therefore makes sense to drop the ‘Londonderry’. It is more convenient, I suppose, and rolls off the tongue much more readily, doesn’t it? I wait with anticipation the news that St. Columb’s College will be henceforth known as “The College”, and the re-branding of ‘Inst’ and ‘Methody’. I’ve heard that ‘The Journal’ are dropping the ‘Derry’.

Mr. Magill goes on to claim that, “Parents, staff and governors were active in planning the review which includes using the simplified form of the school’s name.”

Hmmm... the comments on the Facebook group set up to oppose this decision would seem to suggest otherwise. ALL parents of pupils presently attending the school who have commented on the group’s wall, have unambiguously stated that they were not consulted over this matter, in any way whatsoever. If consultation did take place with parents at board level, it would appear that their opinions were either ignored or were not representative of the majority.

One notable omission from the list of those who have ownership of the name change is the pupil body, surely the group that is likely to be impacted upon more than any other? Having worked in education for 14 years, I know it is best practice to involve pupils closely in any proposals for change. Is there a pupil council at F&LC? Was the opinion of this body sought? I suspect not. One parent from the Facebook group described how a pupil, who had drafted a petition in opposition to the name change, had it confiscated with little or no explanation.

All of this brings me to the conclusion that the powers that be have come to this decision for one glaringly obvious and over-riding reason; pupil numbers are down and the principal and board are desperate to broaden the appeal of the school to the RC majority in the city.

Healthy mix

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is extremely healthy for our young people to be educated in a school that attracts pupils from all communities. This was my experience at Foyle during the late 80s and early 90s. I attended lessons, played sports and made friends with Muslims, Hindus and Roman Catholics; and yet the school still had “Londonderry” in its name.

What this move will serve to do more than anything else is to further damage the status of the Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist community in and around Londonderry.

“How? It’s just a name for goodness sake. Surely as long as the pupils are happy that’s the main thing?”

The opinion expressed above is not mine of course, but mirrors that likely to be expressed by some of the cosseted, myopic, middle class protagonists who will be discussing the situation in Dunfanaghy, over a glass or two of shiraz.

What they will no doubt fail to note is that this move is another step along the road to the complete eradication of the PUL identity within the city.

They will no doubt fail to equate the name change with the events of the early 70s that led to the gradual decline of the unionist population in the cityside from over 15,000 in 1969 to fewer than 500 in 2011. They won’t connect the loss of the word “Londonderry” from the school with the re-naming of the City Council or the airport etc. They will somehow miss the thread that connects all these events: the intolerance towards and subsequent demise of our community.

Demonisation

By making this change, Jack Magill and the board of governors of Foyle College have become complicit in the further demonization of the unionist community’s preference of referring to the their home city as ‘Londonderry’. Nationalists will see this as further verification that it is somehow wrong to call the city by its official name and another facet of unionist culture and identity will be lost.

Perhaps if there was a reciprocal gesture from one or all of the city’s RC schools then this wouldn’t gall so much, but I really can’t see any of them falling over themselves to extend their catchment to include the Protestant minority. Welcome to the City of Mono-Culture.