Newly declassified Northern Ireland state papers have revealed that controversy over the use of the terms ‘Derry’ and ‘Londonderry’ were rife in 1985.
Whilst a junior Minister for the Environment at the Northern Ireland Office, future Tory party grandee Chris Patten authorised the change of the name of the local authority to Derry City Council.
The move caused a unionist walkout from Council which and protest action from local members of the DUP who at one point locked themselves into the city’s Guildhall prompting the RUC to have force their way in to remove them. Amongst the DUP protesters were Gregory Campbell, a future Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure at Stormont and William Hay, now Baron Hay of Ballyore.
The papers reveal that the Town Clerk was instructed to write to then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Douglas Hurd and ask that staff in government departments be permitted to use either ‘Derry’ or ‘Londonderry’ in official correspondence.
Meanwhile, Londonderry Unionist Association said the debacle reinforced the claim for a separate district council on the East Bank of the Foyle.
Stormont official, Pat Carvill said the real effect of the debate was to force council staff and the public into a position where they had to indicate where they stood on the issue. He advised that government bodies should use the new terminology of Derry City Council but use Londonderry in the postal address.
But, the controversy arose again the following year when now DUP MP Gregory Campbell protested to David Fell, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Economic Development (DED) at Stormont over the use of the word ‘Derry’ in a job advertisement for Shantallow Area Workshop.
In a letter dated April 22, 1986 Mr Campbell told Mr Fell: “As you are probably aware, the way in which advertisements are worded can very often affect the type of people who apply.
“An ad placed in Londonderry with the term ‘Derry’ is virtually certain to preclude many Protestants from applying.”
In this instance it was suggested that the business referred to was exclusively Catholic.
Mr Campbell continued: “Whether or not this is the case, I feel a workshop sponsored by the DED ought not to have an incorrect or politically motivated version of the city’s name in the advertisement.”
The DUP man asked if action could be taken by DED of if the case should be referred by him to the Fair Employment Agency for investigation.
Further entries in the file of papers show that the issue was one that appeared to cause consternation in Belfast.
In a memo drafted on April 30, 1986 Trevor Pearson of the Stormont Central Secretariat wrote: “The issue of the use of Derry or Londonderry drags on interminably.
“The government position is simply that the correct address is Londonderry and that Derry is used only when referring to the council. In the case of bodies funded from public money it is more difficult to apply. If a body insists on using Derry as its postal address, the only sanction which the DED can impose is the cutting-off of funds.”
However, Mr Pearson contended that it was very doubtful any government department would contemplate such drastic action.