“Equality Commission strongly advise Derry City Council not to proceed”

The BBC reports the NI Equality Commission’s response to Derry City Council’s “Equality Impact Assessment of the Resolution to make application to the Privy Council to have the name of the City changed from Londonderry to Derry”. Equality Commission report [pdf file]

It is the Commission’s view that good relations in this instance have been insufficiently addressed by the Council.

From the Equality Commission report [pdf file]

5. Conclusion

5.1 The Commission appreciates that Derry City Council wishes to promote and develop the City and the region. This aim however must not be pursued at the expense of good relations and community cohesion.

The EQIA analysis and report does not convince the Commission that the policy currently proposed by the Council is the appropriate way to achieve its aim.

5.2 It is the Commission’s view that good relations in this instance have been insufficiently addressed by the Council.

In the light of the serious adverse impacts on people of different religion/political belief within the Council area, and possibly for the region as a whole, the Equality Commission strongly advise Derry City Council not to proceed with the policy as it is currently proposed since a range of possible options has not been adequately considered and a significant amount of good relations work remains to be done before any official name change is considered. The Council should demonstrate that every possible effort has been made to mitigate any adverse impacts identified by the EQIA process.

And it’s worth highlighting this section of the Equality Commission report

3.1 Aim of the policy

3.1.1 The Council states that the aim of the proposed policy is to “change the name of the City to reflect the needs of this City for a single, clear identity and to reflect the wishes of the vast majority of the citizens, while respecting the views of all sections of the community”.

3.1.2 The consultation document also identifies the Council’s stated objectives as

· reflecting the needs of this city for a single clear identity and
· reflecting the wishes of the vast majority of citizens.

These objectives are the basis on which the Council rests its view of the proposed name change. ( see p 80)

3.1.3 The Commission recognises that a clear and agreed decision about the naming of the second city of Northern Ireland will be very difficult to achieve in a situation where there is no consensus, especially when the issues are sensitive and deeply divisive. However, the Commission is of the view that these difficulties are compounded by the objectives chosen by the Council.

3.1.4 There is further confusion added by the fact that the Council’s stated objectives and the aims of the policy are different in a significant way. Even within the policy aims there is a real conflict to the extent that it is virtually impossible to reconcile the differences between them. The stated objectives of the Council, which appear to be the yardstick against which the Council measures any approach to its proposal, pose an even more fundamental problem as they make no provision for taking into account the views of those who are not part of the majority. [added emphasis]

3.1.5 This inconsistency and, it might be said, mutual exclusivity involved, represent a serious weakness in the EQIA and do not provide a basis on which satisfactory conclusions can be built.

3.1.6 Moreover, we would stress that while it is often important that policies have wide public support, policy-making should not simply be about reflecting the wishes of the majority. This approach has the potential to convert the EQIA process into a quasi referendum which runs contrary to the spirit of the legislation. One of the main aims of the EQIA process, as clearly outlined in the statute, is to ensure that adequate consideration is given to mitigating the adverse impact of policies on different sections of the community, so that the needs and wishes of those likely to be adversely affected are not overlooked.