Page last updated at 13:07 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 14:07 UK

Pupils drawn into name-change row

David Funston
David Funston is the principal of Lisneal College

Pupils at a secondary school in Londonderry have been asked to sign a letter opposing moves to change the city's official name to Derry.

Parents of pupils at Lisneal College received the letter from the principal, David Funston, a week ago.

He said he had been asked to distribute an attached letter opposing the name-change which students could sign and forward to Derry City Council.

Completion of the letters was "entirely voluntary", Mr Funston said.

A parent of a Catholic pupil at the school, who did not want to be named, told the Derry Journal he was "furious", and the letter had left Catholic children at Lisneal "isolated".

"It's absolutely outrageous that children should be dragged into this debate.

"You would have thought that schools would adopt a neutral stance on such issues.

"And yet here was my child being very publicly asked to sign up to an issue that is overtly political and, dare I say it, sectarian."

I am very worried that the proposal to change the name of the city is aimed at removing all signs of Protestant identity from the city
Extract from the letter to be sent to Derry City Council

Former mayor of Derry Mildred Garfield is a member of the Loyalist Action Committee, which was responsible for the letter.

"I wasn't aware that there were Catholic children attending Lisneal.

"I thought Lisneal College was a totally Protestant school.

"I take the point that maybe the nationalist children did feel intimidated, but if their parents didn't want their children to sign it, they didn't have to sign it," she said.

DUP councillor and East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, defended the school's decision to send the letter.

"The children weren't dragged into it.

"This was an issue of the school being approached and merely acting as a conduit.

"I think the letter from the principal was very clear, this was a voluntary thing, and if people didn't wish to do it they could simply decline to do it.

"There may have been one or two who didn't, but I know that the vast majority in the unionist community responded, and we will see if the same amount of publicity is given to the overall issue.

"I think this is a contrived controversy," he said.

'Protestant identity'

The letter which pupils were invited to sign was addressed to the Council's solicitor, Damien McMahon.

It stated that the signatory was "totally against the name change".

"As a young person living in this city I am very worried that the proposal to change the name of the city is aimed at removing all signs of Protestant identity from the city," the letter read.

"It impacts on my political and cultural beliefs and I believe that it shows a lack of respect or tolerance for these beliefs.

"Through school and youth activities we have been encouraged to explore relationships across the community divides but it will be extremely difficult to continue to have any belief in the value of this work if this change goes through as I feel, as a young person, that my viewpoint is being ignored and is falling on deaf ears."

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