Government papers: Unionists told nothing wrong with council name change

Chris Patten
Chris Patten

Londonderry City Council voted to change its name to Derry City Council in 1984 and that year the Government acceded to the request.

A file on the matter released at the Public Record Office in Belfast contains limited details of discussions within the NIO at the time.

The then NIO junior minister Chris Patten wrote to several unionist MPs who objected to the change, arguing that anywhere else in the UK if a local council voted to change its name it would not even be a matter for a Government minister unless the name chosen was grossly inappropriate.

And, he argued, as the name “Derry” was a historic name for the city, it could not be argued that the name chosen was inappropriate.

However, the name change led to a question as to whether the city’s courts should also change their name.

A memo from P Coulson in the Law and Order Division to Frank Edgar in the Courts Service stated that if, as the Courts Service appeared to believe, there was a direct link between the name of each petty sessions district and local government district “then logic and consistency would suggest that the name of the Londonderry Petty Session District should be amended to accord with the changed name”.

But he added: “Although this approach would be logical and defensible, if the Londonderry Petty Sessions District does change its title, this will fuel the political controversy.

“The advice from our Political Affairs Division therefore is that if it is at all possible the change of name should be held in abeyance for the moment.”

However, he also said that there was an argument for addressing the issue sooner rather than later, adding in a convoluted mixed metaphor: “There would be some advantage in facing the music now, when the pot is on the boil, rather than risk bringing the pot back to the boil at some future date.”

As it happened, such a change was never made and the Petty Sessions District of Londonderry still exists.