A decision by Derry & Strabane Council to look into making ‘Derry’ the city’s official name has been branded ‘disgusting’ by a DUP Councillor.
David Ramsey made the comment after a majority backed a motion by Sinn Fein Councillor Eric McGinley to seek information from Environment Minister Mark H Durkan on how to go about trying to change the city’s name.
The new move by Derry City & Strabane District Council was voted upon at the Guildhall on Thursday evening and passed with the full support of Sinn Fein, SDLP and the Independent Councillors, despite opposition from the minority unionist block.
The council took the vote after being told that a request had been received for a public vote on installing ‘Derry’ as the officially recognised name of the city.
The request has been made by the same person who is behind a Facebook campaign on the issue. Council Chief Executive John Kelpie received an e-mail requesting, on the back of this, that the people are given the chance to vote and decide on the official name.
The Facebook petition, which was launched in May, has to date achieved support from over 1,500 people.
A Change.org online campaign petition can be accessed via the Facebook ‘Derry Not Londonderry Petition’ page.
Speaking on the matter, Colr. McGinley said it was the policy of the previous Derry City Council to change the name of the city back to Derry.
“Sinn Fein’s position hasn’t changed since March,” he added. “We would propose today that Derry City and Strabane District Council seeks to change the name of the city back to Derry and in that context writes to the DoE Minister seeking clarity of the process that will allow that to proceed.”
After a short period of time, DUP Councillor Maurice Devenney asked for the matter to be revisited as he had been unable to hear Colr. McGinley earlier due to bad acoustics and wasn’t aware that the matter had already passed through.
“We are totally opposed to any change from the name Londonderry,” he said, adding that the issue had been brought forward in the past before by through the former council and a bid to change the name had failed.
UUP Councillor Derek Hussey echoed those sentiments, claiming the name of the city couldn’t be ‘changed back’ because it had, to his understanding, always been ‘Londonderry’ under the 17th Century Royal Charter.
SDLP Councillor Gerard Diver described the debate as “groundhog day”, adding that when the issue had previously been raised, the clarification received was that it was only the Queen’s Privy Council who could change the name.
He added however that while presumably the response would be the same again, his party would have no issue with someone writing to the Minister.
“I do think in these difficult times there would probably be more pressing issues,” he added.
Colr. McGinley said he wanted to clarify that they had in the past proposed a motion, while Derry City Council was in existence, that the council write to the Privy Council to change the name to Derry but that that motion was defeated and it was at this point the name change bid collapsed.
DUP Councillor David Ramsey said the issue was one of equality and that the previous Equality Impact Assessment came back negative.
“London stone masons built the city, full stop,” he said.
“We keep sectarianising this every time,” he added. “Here we go again. There’s just no end to it. It’s disgusting to say the least.”
A recorded vote on Colr. McGinley’s proposal was taken at the council meeting, with 28 Councillors voting to seek advice on how to change the name, and nine voting against.
Derry’s name has been contentious since the Plantation of Ulster when the prefix -London was attached by Royal Charter in the early 1600s.
Derry’s history as a settlement is known to date back to at least the 6th Century AD when St Columba’s monastery is thought to have been established in what is now the upper city centre/ Long Tower area.
Prior to the arrival of the Planters, the city was recorded as ‘Derry’, ‘Daire’ or ‘Doire’ meaning Oak Grove in Irish and had been an important trading port and ecclesiastical centre of learning during the Middle Ages.