Taking the centre ground in the debate, of course, is the Alliance Party. Despite not having much support in Derry (they didn't even stand there in 2005, and got less than 1% of the vote in 2001), their General Secretary, Gerry Lynch, has submitted a response to the equality impact assessment, recommending that the city should have two names, and that "the current bid to have the name change to Derry alone should be abandoned in the interests of community relations."
Meanwhile the unionist camp are boasting that they have "gathered almost 7,500 letters opposing Sinn Fein's push" – though one wonders how many were signed 'voluntarily' by schoolchildren under the watchful eye of their school principals.
As far as this blog sees it, there are five main options for the name of the city, each with some merits and demerits:
- The status quo – which would, of course, represent a victory for Derry's minority unionist community, and a defeat for the wishes of the majority. This would not help community relations at all, and would probably ensure higher support for Sinn Féin, and an even more divided city.
- The 'dual name' suggestion of the Alliance Party – which has superficial attractiveness, but would be clumsy. Would the full title 'Derry-Londonderry' be used at all times in all official documents? That would make the name 17 characters long – longer than almost any other urban area (outside Wales). Other towns with dual names tend to have one in one language, and a different one in the other, so both are rarely if ever used simultaneously (Jerusalem (English), Yerushaláyim (Hebrew), al-Quds (Arabic); Helsinki (Finnish), Helsingfors (Swedish); Bruxelles (French), Brussel (Dutch); Basel (German), Bâle (French), and so on). Derry, of course, already has a name in Irish – Doire – and both of Alliance's dual names would be used in English only.
- Official recognition of Derry as the only name – this would please the vast majority of the cities residents, but would severely displease unionists (who mostly live elsewhere, of course). This is, of course, the name that everyone, even most Protestants, call the city, except when they are trying to make a political point.
- Retention of the name 'Londonderry' for the walled city only, and official recognition of 'Derry' for the wider urban area. This has some historical validity – after all, only the walled city existed when the charter imposing the 'London-' prefix was granted. Unionists, mindful of their history, could hardly object. In this way, 'Londonderry', comprising the area between the walls, would become a ward in the urban area of Derry. For all matters pertaining to the wider area the name Derry would be used, but the link to unionism's history would remain in the part of the city for which it was intended.
- An entirely new name. Although attractive to those frustrated by the arguments, this is simply a non-starter. Names like 'The Maiden City', 'Stroke City', or 'Foyle' lack seriousness, historical validity, or popularity.
This argument is currently a zero-sum game – if one side wins, the other loses. The wise thing to do would be to search for a compromise, but it must be a workable compromise. For this reason, this blog supports the fourth option – retain the name 'Londonderry' for the walled city, while officially using the more popular name 'Derry' for the urban area (and thus also in the name of the new local government district).