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Use of 'Derry' in government letter unleashed two-year duel between DUP's McCrea and Stormont

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 19/01/2016

Gregory Campbell
Gregory Campbell
Ian McCrea

A Stormont department spent nine months investigating a complaint from a DUP MLA after it sent a letter to an address in 'Co Derry'.

The Department for Social Development (DSD) later apologised for not referring to the county as "Londonderry".

It was one of at least five occasions in the last four years when Mid Ulster MLA Ian McCrea objected to the use of 'Derry' in correspondence.

The issue was also raised by Gregory Campbell, a DUP MP for East Londonderry.

In one case, a complaint made in February 2013 took until November 2013 to be investigated and resolved.

Staff also had to be issued with advice on how to refer to Londonderry in the wake of the complaints.

The details emerged after a Freedom of Information request to DSD by the Belfast Telegraph.

The department has been led by a DUP minister since 2011.

Internal correspondence released to this newspaper dates back to the period when Nelson McCausland was Social Development Minister.

Complaints were first raised by Mr McCrea in a letter to Mr McCausland on April 17, 2012.

It came after the DUP MLA was contacted by constituents who had received letters which referred to "Co Derry".

Mr McCrea wrote for a second time on February 22, 2013, about the use of Co Derry in a letter issued by the Magherafelt Jobs and Benefits Office.

This letter was forwarded to Thomas O'Reilly, the chief executive of the Social Security Agency, for investigation on April 12.

It took seven months for the matter to be investigated and a response issued.

In his reply, dated November 12, 2013, Mr O'Reilly states: "It is usual practice within the Social Security Agency to respect the preferences of our customers in relation to the use of Derry or Londonderry in our correspondence.

"Therefore, as good practice the Agency will in all handwritten, and where possible, in computer generated correspondence, use the address initially quoted by our customers.

"I am sorry that [redacted] received letters addressed in a manner which was not acceptable to him. Staff have been reminded to use the address in line with claimant preference.

"A reminder in relation to good practice for address formatting has been issued to all unit managers in the Jobs and Benefits network who cover the Derry/Londonderry area."

The issue was taken up again in a letter from Gregory Campbell to Mr McCausland dated August 8, 2013. He wrote: "I have received complaints from constituents regarding their address on correspondence received from the Social Security Agency.

"On occasions the constituent's address on letters from SSA is printed as 'Co Derry' instead of the correct name - Co Londonderry.

"Can you ensure that staff at the Social Security Agency use correct place names when addressing letters to constituents?"

Mr O'Reilly replied to explain that addresses were automatically generated by a computer system and "may not always reflect customer preferences".

He again apologised for issuing letters which were "not acceptable" to customers.

However, the issue still wasn't resolved. A further three letters were sent by Mr McCrea to the Social Development Minister in January, February and September 2014.

Mr McCrea expressed his "utmost dissatisfaction" at the matter, stating: "As I am sure you will understand, my constituent is furious at the fact that this has been allowed to happen and, quite frankly, having raised this issue before, it seems that there is no regard being given to the current policy of good practice or there is a default setting to issue outgoing correspondence with 'Co Derry' instead of its proper title of 'Co Londonderry'."

Mr McCrea asked the minister to investigate "as a matter of urgency". This led Mr O'Reilly to send yet another letter of apology.

However, the matter was still not over, and it took a further letter from Mr McCrea, sent on September 23, 2014, before the issue appears to have been resolved.

Belfast Telegraph

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