Derry or Londonderry?

Even the BBC can’t decide.

Tuning in to the BBC late last night, I watched a report about the Saville inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, 1972, during which the studio presenter referred to the Northern Irish city of "Londonderry". When we went to a report from the area, however, the name of "Derry" was used. Naturally, there are historical resonances attached to both versions.

Unionists -- and especially their supporters in England -- have a strong preference for Londonderry, as it was renamed in recognition of its connections with City of London livery companies during the Plantation of Ulster in the 1600s.

Nationalists tend to prefer the name that served perfectly well for centuries before the inhabitants of the large island next door decided to occupy the neighbouring lands across the Irish Sea -- "ye that have harried and held/ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!", as Patrick Pearse, leader of the 1916 Easter Rising, called them in his poem "The Rebel".

As Saville is going to be in the news in the coming days, there is a significance in the nomenclature used in reports. The Guardian style guide, for instance, states firmly: "Derry, Co Derry. Not Londonderry." A BBC press officer tells me she doesn't think the corporation has any internal guidelines.

The Independent's letters editor and style supremo, Guy Keleny, says that paper would aim to be "non-tendentious and even-handed as regards the history of Northern Ireland". So, the local authority, which voted to revert to the original name of Derry in 1984, "has the right to call itself whatever it wants". However, the high court ruled in 2007 that Londonderry is in the city's royal charter and remains its legal name.

An old edition of the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors lists Derry as a "postally acceptable abbreviation" of Londonderry, while I gather the comedian Dara O'Briain makes light of the competing versions when he performs in the city by opening his show with the line: "Hello, my name is Dara, or if you prefer, you can call me Londondara."

You can find quite a history of the dispute on Wikipedia here, although some of its statements are questionable. It says, for instance, that "The Londonderry Air" ("Danny Boy") is "seldom" called "The Derry Air". Not so "seldom" in southern Irish circles, that's for sure.

Keleny adds: "there ought to be a Platonic ideal" for the name of the actual place -- but that is still only an aspiration. As Éamonn Ó Ciardha of the University of Ulster says: "The Ulster Plantation may have been 400 years ago but its impact is still being felt at home and abroad." Not least in the findings of the Saville inquiry, which are published today.

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Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to the New Statesman
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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.