Unionists in Northern Ireland have expressed understandable annoyance following the decision by Derry City and Strabane District Council to vote in favour of changing the official name of the city of Londonderry to Derry.
The vote on Thursday last at the Guildhall on the controversial name change was passed with support from Sinn Fein, the SDLP and independent councillors. Understandably the proposal was opposed by the minority unionist group on the nationalist-controlled council.
Why, in the name of all that is good and reasonable, cause needless tension and dispute by tinkering with the city name? The name Derry/Londonderry has been in common use for some time and that seems, to an outsider like me ay least, to be an acceptable solution in a place where opinions are still strongly divided along nationalist/unionist lines. Derry/Londonderry seems to be a peace-bridge type of name which accommodates two traditions living side by side in one recently very troubled place.
Raising sectarian disputes by proposing what was clearly going to be a controversial vote on a name change is just as de-stabilising to peaceful relations as the wearisome regular call by Sinn Fein for a plebiscite on the question of whether Northern Ireland wishes to be united with the Republic of Ireland. Do Sinn Fein really believe that if a day dawns when (a) nationalists in the north slightly outnumber unionists and (b) vote en masse for unification, that the new slender minority of unionists will be happy to unquestioningly throw in their lot with the people south of the border? Is this simple majority rule the Sinn Fein idea of democracy?
The Good Friday agreement has been a wonderful, and rather amazing, resting point along the road to better relations, north and south, east and west between the diverse traditions on these islands. If, as a follow up to that agreement, friendship and co-operation can be fostered in the very many areas where it make sense to work together, that will be good job, a wonderful job and, for now, a sufficient job. Marriage proposals can be left until both parties are truly in love. The pain of recent events on all sides requires time and careful attention in order to heal. The flower of co-operation requires time and careful attention in order to bloom.
We have to learn to celebrate diversity and not to fear it. The two main traditions on this island have much to offer each other. It is painful to see sectarian views expressed in relation to flags and symbols, parades and celebrations, the wearing and non wearing of poppies, the use of words in church. I happen, by good fortune, to belong to a church, the Unitarian Church in Dublin, where diversity is celebrated. If a survey was to be taken in our church I expect that no two of us would hold the same views and yet week by week we worship together to seek meaning and celebrate the wonder of existence. I pray that unionists and nationalists, inspired by progressive, patient and far seeing leaders will one day be happy to celebrate their differences and live together in that peace which is the entitlement and hope of all people.
Tony 10 November 2015