THE postponement of a decision on the controversial Londonderry name change bid until after a General Election would allow the SDLP to solicit unionist votes, it has been claimed.
Thus warned DUP Alderman Gregory Campbell following the adjournment of a Special Meeting of Derry City Council to consider whether or not to proceed with the name change bid on Friday.
The meeting was put back until after the funeral of Real IRA murder victim Kieran Doherty, who was shot dead in the city on Wednesday.
Mr Campbell said an Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) proposal to park the decision on the divisive application to the Queen's Privy Council will play into the hands of the SDLP which successfully mopped up 1,500 votes from the unionist constituency in Foyle in 2005. Unionists believe these votes went to Mr Durkan to help prevent a Sinn Fin victory.
"I think that would actually be a very dangerous route to take," said Mr Campbell. "What you could get would be a particular nationalist party that would be quite content to park it until after the election in the hope that they might garner a few unionist votes with which to stop Sinn Fin winning the seat."
He added: "And then once they've got the votes in the bag after the election they will lift the baton again afterwards.
"So I think that would be a very dangerous possible outcome and should be avoided. If the Ulster Unionists were prepared to say 'park this until after the election,' I'm sure the SDLP would say 'that's an excellent idea because it assists us'."
Explained Mr Campbell: "The last time - we know from the election result in 2005 that Mark Durkan got 1,500 unionist votes - fifteen hundred people who didn't want to be represented by a Sinn Fin MP.
"So, they would I'm sure be delighted with that. They would be able to get some unionist votes and then the SDLP after the election would say 'alright we're going back to the name change.' So I think it would be a retrograde step."
The East Londonderry MP also tied the name change application to Derry City Council's UK City of Culture 2013 bid. He said adjudicators may be faced with the "nonsensical" situation where one finalist was culturally divided over its name.
"The Council have a number of options and even the list of options that have been itemised by the Council officials is not exhaustive because there are one or two other options to be looked at.
"But the response from the wider community was absolutely clear and I think, for example, in the bid for the City of Culture, I made it clear on behalf of the unionist bloc that if we were going to make an application for the City of Culture we would have to be internally, within the city cognisant of the fact that all of our cultures would have to be accepted.
"So it would make a nonsense to have an application in for a City of Culture bid and at the same time deny the cultural outlook of about a third of the city's citizens."
He said the overwhelming opposition to the name change expressed in the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) leads to the inevitable conclusion that in order to give "respect to the cultural aspirations of a significant number of the people in the city the name Londonderry should be retained."
The leading DUP man effectively rejected as "unwieldy" the suggestion that the Privy Council application be amended to give parity to "Derry," "Londonderry" and "Doire" or that there be no amendment to the name "but that the extent of the 'city of Londonderry' be amended, for example, the area within the walls, while the modern urban city be called 'Derry.'"
"The main and I suppose practical problem with that is the total unwieldy nature of it. What would it end up being called?" he asked.
"Now in my view the name should be Londonderry and if people wish to use Derry they can. That's the current postion and I would have thought that's the position that caused least offense in the EQIA and also in the past so why should it not be the name that should pertain in future?"