Lawyers to rule on unionist move to block Londonderry name change bid

editorial image

Council lawyers will advise within weeks on the soundness or otherwise of a unionist move to block another divisive nationalist bid to chop the London-prefix off Londonderry.

But unionists, whilst refusing to second-guess our learned friends, say that, even if their challenge to a majority-backed nationalist motion to ask the Communities Minister Paul Givan what Derry City and Strabane District Council have to do to change the name fails, any prospective bid to change the name is likely to be doomed anyway.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council told the Sentinel that the motion passed in July 2015 was subject to “call-in” pursuant to section 41(1)(b) of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014.

That means Council had to seek a legal opinion before reconsidering the matter, due to the potential felt by unionists that the move would adversely affect those from the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist (PUL) tradition in the city disproportionately.

DUP Alderman Drew Thompson said: “What we’re waiting on now is the outcome of the legal advice on the call-in process. The result isn’t back yet so we have to wait for that but we’re on record as having said that this is a divisive move and we are essentially going back over old ground.

“We’ve been here before and you’ll remember that the last time this was attempted we had the overwhelming response to the Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) with the Community Relations Council (CRC) at the time, recognising its divisiveness.”

Indeed, in a response to an EQIA survey on the 2009/10 failed name-change bid the CRC warned: “The change of name of the City Council from Londonderry to Derry was itself highly controversial” and that a move to change the name of the city legally could be seen as “liberation from British imperial occupation or (alternatively) as an act of cultural genocide by Irish nationalism which presages a wider campaign of intolerance and exclusion.”

Mr Thompson said the unionist delegation will wait patiently to hear what the lawyers have to say but warned that even if the call-in is thrown out, any attempt to change the name will fail.

“We will wait until the autumn but ultimately, even if the nationalist members of the Council do go ahead with this, they’re going to end up going down the same road of potentially having to ask the Queen’s Privy Council or Parliament to change the name,” he added.

In effect, any such bid, if it goes ahead will be subject to a unionist triple lock.

The Council will first have to get past Unionist Communities Minister Paul Givan, it will then have to get past the Queen’s Privy Council, on which First Minister and ‘Londonderry’ fan Arlene Foster now sits, and it will then have to get past the Queen-in-Parliament.

A spokesperson for Derry City and Strabane District Council said: “Council is currently awaiting the legal opinion in relation to the call-in and an update is expected to come before Council in the autumn.”