Attempt to change city name thrown into chaos

A controversial plan to change Londonderry's name was thrown into chaos last night when three separate motions were voted down at Derry City Council.

Unionists voted alongside the SDLP to knock back a Sinn Fein proposal to go ahead with attempts to remove the 'London' prefix from the city's name.

This was after they joined Sinn Fein in voting against an SDLP proposal to set up a steering group on the issue.

A third SDLP proposal to convene a meeting of political party heads was also rejected.

Unionists had said beforehand that they wanted the SDLP to make clear its position before the forthcoming General Election. Gregory Campbell suggested recently the nationalist party might try to secure unionist votes in an effort to fight off Sinn Fein's bid to win the Foyle seat, and therefore would make a different decision following the election.

After three failed motions, yesterday's meeting broke up without any decision being taken on the next step.

After being postponed due to the Real IRA murder of Kieran Doherty recently, the Guildhall meeting was convened yesterday to consider whether or not to continue with the Council's controversial petition to the Queen's Privy Council to have the city's official name changed from 'Londonderry' to 'Derry'.

In a report ahead of the meeting, councillors heard that the vast majority of respondents to an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) on the proposal were against any move to expunge 'Londonderry' from the official record.

More than 9,000 people said they were broadly against the proposal; this was three times the number of people who said they were broadly in support of a move to change the city's name to 'Derry'.

And at yesterday's meeting, city solicitor Damien McMahon said no assessment ever undertaken by Derry City Council had had "such an intensive consultation".

He said the fact so many responses were received from outside the city was "unique".

He urged councillors to take "particular note" of submissions by the Equality Commission (EQ) and the Community Relations Council (CRC).

A proposal by SDLP councillor Helen Quigley to defer the proposed application and set up a working group to address concerns raised by the EC and CRC and to meet with the Human Rights Commission also was defeated by a bloc vote by the DUP, UUP and SF.

A proposal by Sinn Fein councillor Kevin Campbell to proceed with the original application unaltered was defeated by a bloc vote of the DUP, UUP and SDLP.

A proposal to convene a meeting of party heads by Councillor Quigley was also defeated and the meeting broke up without agreement.

The name change row has ignited strong emotions within and outside Londonderry, and attracted warnings from two powerful equality watchdogs when the council carried out its Equality Impact Assessment.

In its submission to the EQIA, the CRC acknowledged the fact that "no dispute about nomenclature has had such symbolic significance as that of the second largest city" and "the change of name of the City Council from Londonderry to Derry was itself highly controversial".