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Support gathers for opposing petitions in Londonderry-Derry name dispute

Published 28/07/2015

A campaign by Sinn Fein is proposing to drop the London reference in the Northern Ireland city's name
A campaign by Sinn Fein is proposing to drop the London reference in the Northern Ireland city's name

Thousands of people have signed opposing petitions as controversy over the proposed renaming of Londonderry to Derry grows.

A campaign by Sinn Fein and other nationalists to change the official name of the Northern Ireland city and drop references to London has been branded sectarian and divisive by unionists who lauded historic connections to "one of the world's great cities".

It is due to be considered by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan in the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

But more than 3,000 supported the change and said the name Londonderry caused social and political problems; reminding victims of atrocities in a city scarred by the Troubles and Bloody Sunday when British troops killed civil rights protesters.

The London prefix was added to Derry when the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613.

A petition said: "The name is a constant reminder to the families of the victims involved in incidents in Derry caused by the British occupation, therefore constantly reminding the families of the incidents."

Most city residents come from a nationalist or Catholic background.

Ulster Unionist representative Julia Kee launched a rival petition to retain Londonderry as the official title of the second largest city in the country. In the first 24 hours it received more than 1,700 signatures.

She said: "London is one of the world's great cities and I believe we should cherish and seek to strengthen the historic ties between Londonderry and London."

In 1984, the name of the nationalist-controlled council was changed from Londonderry to Derry City Council. The city itself continues to be officially known as Londonderry.

In 2007 a High Court judge ruled that only legislation or Royal prerogative could change the city's name.

Sinn Fein has said its proposal, supported by the council, was not about airbrushing London from the history of the city but about ensuring it had a clear brand and single name.

The petition calling for the name change to Derry said: "The name Londonderry causes social and political problems, reminds victims of the atrocities that have been committed there, causes problems identifying the city and is against what the people of Derry wish."

Ms Kee said the latest attempt by Sinn Fein to seek to change the official name of the City of Londonderry was completely divisive and unnecessary and sent a message to the minority unionist community that they were not welcome.

"There are very real problems in our city which need to be urgently addressed but the name is not one of them. We should instead be concentrating on issues such as education, employment, housing and healthcare."

Dissident republicans have attempted to attack police and army bases in the area and recently young people threw petrol bombs at police.

Socialist activist and writer Eamonn McCann said the city, traditionally one of the most deprived in the UK, still faced challenges.

"The focus on the name of the town seems to me to be inappropriate at the moment."

He said lack of opportunity and huge problems with unemployment encouraged anti-social behaviour among the young.

"Young people can see no futures for themselves and that gives rise in turn to large scale anti-social behaviour.

"It is not that there is nowhere to go at night, there is nowhere to go with their lives, which creates greater problems and anxieties among older people."

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