Belfast Telegraph

'Derry-Londonderry' row as councillors quarrel over EU Capital of Culture bid

By Leona O'Neill

A meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council descended into farce last night after a fresh row broke out over the city's name.

The dispute arose during a debate over whether the city should be called Derry, Londonderry or both in a joint bid with Belfast to become 2023 European Capital of Culture.

Unionist councillors wanted the bid to include 'Londonderry' in the branding.

Sinn Fein and several independents, who wanted it to remain simply a 'Derry-Belfast' bid, opposed the amendment from independent unionist Maurice Devenney.

His proposal was defeated in a vote despite the SDLP backing the move, along with the Ulster Unionists and DUP.

Mr Devenney said his proposal was a bid to "bring in the unionist factor".

"We are a minority here in Londonderry," he said.

"It was interesting to see a split nationalist vote - SDLP supporting 'Londonderry', Sinn Fein opposing it.

"Sinn Fein, I think, need to question what equality really is.

"All we are looking for is equality for the unionist community here in Londonderry."

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The DUP's David Ramsay said his council colleagues "did not seem to understand the importance of our city's official name Londonderry being used".

He said all unionists wanted was "a genuine acceptance of the official city name that was given to this city after the London stonemasons built the city walls".

Tyrone-based independent councillor Paul Gallagher then proposed that the word 'Strabane' be added to the bid and branding, making it a 'Derry-Strabane-Belfast' bid.

The SDLP's Martin Reilly described that proposal as "farcical".

"If they are watching this in Belfast they will be laughing at us," he said.

Mr Gallagher insisted that the people of Strabane would be paying for the bid through their rates and that they should not be disenfranchised.

However, his proposal was defeated.

Mayor Hilary McClintock urged members to be "mindful of the message" the council was putting out.

Londonderry previously held the title of UK City of Culture in 2013.

Belfast failed in its bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008.

In 2013 the city used the 'Derry-Londonderry' branding to promote events during the year of culture.

Every year, two cities are designated Capital of Culture by the European Union, and organise a series of cultural events over the 12 months.

The UK was picked to host the event in 2023 before it voted for Brexit and to leave the European Union last June.

Hosting the year-long programme of events can bring increased investment, create jobs and significantly boost the local economy.

The winning UK city will be announced late next year.

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