Declassified files: Government refuses to budge on issue of ‘Derry’ or ‘Londonderry’

Douglas Hurd
Douglas Hurd

A request for civil servants to be allowed to use “Derry” or “Londonderry” in official correspondence was refused by Douglas Hurd during his time as Northern Ireland secretary, according to confidential files from the 1980s.

The Conservative MP had been asked by the town clerk and chief executive of Derry City Council, which was formed in 1984, to issue fresh instructions to all government departments and organisations.

However, in a brief response, from a senior Northern Ireland Office (NIO) official, it was confirmed the Government was not prepared to budge.

“The position is that Government Departments refer to the City Council by its proper title - “Derry City Council” in all official documents and correspondence. The official postal address of the City Council is “Londonderry” and official correspondence will be addressed accordingly.”

Meanwhile, also in the file released by the Public Records Office under the 20-year rule was correspondence from DUP MP Gregory Campbell dated April 1986, in which he complained about a newspaper job advertisement.

The advert for a supervisor at the Shantallow Area Workshop was sent to the permanent secretary for the Department of Economic Development (DED) at Stormont, along with a complaint.

Mr Campbell wrote: “As you are probably aware, the way in which advertisements are worded can very often affect the type of people who reply. An ad, placed in the Londonderry area with the term ‘Derry’ is virtually certain to preclude many Protestants from applying. In the case of the Shantallow Area Workshop it could be that this type of advertising has been used in the past and therefore the workforce is comprised of the one section of the community only. Whether or not this is the case I feel that a workshop sponsored by DED ought not to have an incorrect and politically motivated version of the city’s name in their advertisements. Can some action be taken or should I refer the case to the FEA for investigation?”

A departmental official expressed frustration when asked for advice on how to handle the complaint.

He said: “The issue of the use of Derry or Londonderry drags on interminably. The Government’s position is simply that correct address is Londonderry and that the term Derry is used only when referring to the Council.

“In the case of bodies and agencies funded from public monies, it is more difficult to apply the policy. If a body insists on using Derry as its postal address, the only sanction which a Department can impose is the cutting off of funds. I very much doubt if any Department would wish to contemplate such action over a matter of this nature.

“I can only suggest that the Department responds to Mr Campbell by acknowledging that the correct address is Londonderry and that this has been drawn to the attention of the manager of the workshop but that no further action is being taken.

“Whether or not Mr Campbell takes this matter to the FEA is up to him and I would be inclined not to make reference to that possibility.”

In August 1985 Mr Campbell received an apology from NIO about “incorrect address correspondence”, the documents also revealed.