With the dissolution of Derry City Council this week, 400 years of local governance restricted to the city limits was brought to an end.
The advent of the new Derry City & Strabane District Council means that from now on, decisions will be taken which will affect people from a much broader area, stretching from Castlederg and Newtonstewart at the southern end to Ballyarnett and Eglinton in the north.
The Londonderry Corporation- the controversial predecessor to Derry City Council- had its roots in the early 1600s and the Plantation.
The corporation would preside in various forms through until the end of the 1960s and would be dominated throughout by those with an attachment to England and Britain.
The office of Mayor of the city has existed just as long, with Sir John Vaughan being awarded the title back in 1615 just after the city’s second charter was signed by James I of England.
This charter changed the name of the city from ‘Doire’ or ‘Derrie’ to ‘Londonderry’, in English law at least, although the majority of the city’s citizens continue to refer to it by the older Derry through until the present day. The former County of Coleraine was also largely changed to become ‘County Londonderry’.
The 1613 charter came just a few years after native chieftain Sir Cahir O’Doherty razed Derry to the ground as part of his failed rebellion against the British forces and his ornate sword can currently be seen at the free Plantation Museum in the Guildhall.
By the 1850s, Derry’s city boundary ran from Letterkenny Road up to what is now Creggan Heights, via Rosemount to Pennyburn Chapel and also included the urban area of the Waterside.
Beyond these city limits was governed by the Londonderry Rural District Council.
The Londonderry Corporation was divided into three wards, north ward, south ward, and Waterside ward. The former two elected eight members to the Corporation and the Waterside four members.
In the final General Election of the Londonderry Corporation’s existence in May 1967, the result was: north ward eight unionists, south ward eight nationalists (including first time councillors James Redmond Doherty and Mary Harrigan), Waterside four unionists. The total number of eligible voters in each area was not proportionate to the amount of people they could elect. The nationalist south ward had just under half of the 23,312 voters across the three areas but only 40% of the representation.
The last Mayor of the old Corporation was William Beattie in 1968 and there would be no more Mayors for four years.
As the Civil Rights movement was born in Derry, due in part to the uneven distribution of Corporation seats or ‘gerrymandering’ as it became known along with internment, a chronic housing shortage, the university going to Coleraine and the development of Craigavon rather than Derry, the old corporation came to an end and there were interim arrangements through until the establishment of Londonderry City Council in 1973.
The mass movement and the establishment of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, which received worldwide attention after marchers were stopped at Duke Street on October 5th, 1968, led to the government examining the demands of the people and the abolition of the Corporation along with the rural council.
They were replaced by the Londonderry Development Commission, with the government appointing nine businessmen who set in motion a massive house building programme, road reconstruction, and the industrial development of Derry, spending around £100million in just a few years.
Londonderry City Council was one of 26 introduced across the north at the suggestion of Patrick McRory following his government procured review. The new councils would have restricted powers, with functions such as Planning and Roads being centralised- something which 42 years later has largely been revoked with the arrival of the new supercouncils this week. The Western Education and Library Board (which was also dissolved this week) was set up at the same time, along with four other boards.
The Housing Executive, an organisation which was instrumental in tackling housing discrimination, was also introduced at this time. In recent years however the Housing Executive has had its responsibilities largely curbed by successive Stormont administrations, with the private sector now taking over much of the social housing sector.
Alongside this, this five year period also proved to be one of the bloodiest and darkest periods of Derry’s and the north’s history, and the widespread unrest delayed the holding of elections.
Local doctor and SDLP Councillor Raymond McClean made history with the arrival of the new council in 1973 by becoming the first nationalist Mayor of Derry as well as the first Mayor of the new Council.
He was one of 27 Councillors elected, with each elector having one vote.
He was followed into office by United Loyalist Jack Allen and the Mayoral post has been shared between nationalists and unionists ever since.
In October 1982, the government appointed Sir Frank Harrison to review local authority boundaries and in 1984 he recommended an increase in seats in Derry to 30, which has remained the case up until this week.
Another historic and significant change at the time was the agreement by Chris Patton on January 24th, 1984 to change the name of the local authority to Derry City Council.
Another boundary review was conducted in 1992 by Dr Maurice Hayes, which saw the five ward groupings- Shantallow, Northland, Cityside, Waterside and Rural- slightly altered.
The council’s direct responsibilities over the past 40 years have included providing Advice Services, street cleaning, arts and entertainment, burial grounds, building regulations, civic ceremonials, registering births, deaths and marriages, clean air provision, community services, consumer protection, dog control, health inspection, leisure and community centres, licensing of entertainment venues, airport, markets and fairs, tourism, swimming pools, leisure facilities, parks and open spaces, recreation pitches and grounds, refuse collection and disposal, and museums and art galleries.
The council members also sites on various boards such as health, education and community safety partnership.
The council has also been a consultee on matters such as roads, planning, sewerage, housing.
Derry City Council delegated responsibility on various matters to various committees, which over the last few years have been sectioned into Planning; Development; Environmental Services; Police & Resources; Staffing.
A new set of committees have been introduced however the new 40-elected member supercouncil, to reflect its increased decision making powers and responsibilities.
Derry City Council employed around 500 people up until this week and the new council organisation has now increased in size by several hundred people with the amalgamation of staff from the city with those from the former Strabane District Council.
And after 42 years, with the final Mayor of Derry, SDLP Councillor Brenda Stevenson and Deputy Mayor DUP Councillor Gary Middleton having hung up their chains at midnight on Tuesday, making way for the first Mayor of Derry & Strabane, Sinn Fein Galliagh Councillor Elisha McCallion and her Deputy, DUP Derg Councillor Thomas Kerrigan, it remains to be seen whether the Derry & Strabane marriage will be prove a success come its own ruby anniversary in 2055.
Moving chairs: Election Results and changing patterns of voting
‘Londonderry City Council’ election 1973
United Loyalists (9)
Alliance Party (4)
Nationalist Party (3)
Republican Clubs (1)
‘Derry & Strabane District Council’ election 2014
Sinn Fein (16)