The latest in a series of bids to have Londonderry officially renamed Derry is being used to distract attention away from wider politicaly difficulties, unionists have claimed.
At a meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council on Thursday, Sinn Fein, SDLP and independent councillors voted in favour of exploring the possibilities of making the change.
Once again the intrinsic sectarianism of Sinn Fein has manifested itselfGary Middleton – DUP MLA
The ‘London’ prefix was added to Derry when the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613, and all previous attempts to change it back have failed.
The name of the nationalist-controlled council was changed from Londonderry to Derry City Council in 1984, but when the issue was addressed in the High Court in 2007, the judged ruled that only new Westminster legislation or a Royal prerogative could bring about a name change.
Both the Community Relations Council and the Equality Commission have previously highlighted the damage being caused to community relations by pursuing a name change.
Commenting on the latest council decision, DUP MLA Gary Middleton said Sinn Fein had introduced the proposal to “distract from their illogical position” on welfare reform which is “taking £2m per week away from frontline services”.
Mr Middleton said: “Once again the intrinsic sectarianism of Sinn Fein has manifested itself in Londonderry.
“You can always tell when Sinn Fein is in a jam politically because they resurrect their divisive proposal to change the name of the city.
“This matter has been ruled upon by the courts. The council is irrelevant to the name of the city.
“Therefore no matter how much Sinn Fein want to change the name of the city, they know that they cannot. What then is their motivation in this matter?”
He added: “What the people of Londonderry deserve are public representatives who will work for everyone in the city to secure jobs, investment and improved public services.
“Sinn Fein clearly is not interested in that and instead would seek to drag the city down into a sectarian argument.”
The Ulster Unionist spokesperson for Foyle, Julia Kee, has also condemned the Sinn Fein-led initiative as “divisive and unnecessary”.
Ms Kee said it “sends a message to the minority unionist community that they are not welcome,” and added: “Generally the unionist community refers to the city as Londonderry whilst nationalists prefer Derry. Many unionists are prepared to use Derry as a shorthand term in everyday speech, but they are in no doubt that for official purposes the full name of the city is Londonderry. This seems to me to be a reasonable compromise.”