Northern Ireland

Newry Council criticised over Raymond McCreesh park

Hunger striker Raymond McCreesh Image copyright other
Image caption Raymond McCreesh died on hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981

The Equality Commission has criticised Newry and Mourne Council for retaining the name of a children's play park called after an IRA hunger striker.

It was originally named after Raymond McCreesh in 2001, but the council voted to retain the name in December 2012.

The commission said the decision went against the council's equality scheme and has recommended it be reviewed.

It also said it should keep in mind the desirability of promoting good relations when naming facilities.

McCreesh, from Camlough in south Armagh, was one of 10 IRA prisoners who died in the hunger strike in the Maze Prison in 1981.

'Good relations'

His convictions included attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership.

Twenty nationalist councillors - including six SDLP representatives - voted to uphold his name in the December 2012 vote, but unionists campaigned against the decision.

The Equality Commission report said the council's consideration of the issue at the time was "more focussed on process and on maintaining the name of the play park than on paying due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations.

"There is little evidence that the duty was exercised in substance, with rigour and with an open mind in the decision making process."

It added: "The commission recognises that the council has a long-standing commitment to promoting good relations, with a programme of work to support this.

"However, our investigation has found that little consideration appears to have been given by the council to the impact its decision, in this instance, might have on the Protestant/unionist community or to the damage it might cause to good relations."

'Hurt to victims'

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Media captionThe council voted to retain the name of the park in December 2012

Last October, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell told the Northern Ireland his party "deeply regrets the hurt and distress unwittingly caused" by voting to retain the IRA name.

On Thursday, SDLP group leader on Newry and Mourne Council, Councillor Michael Carr, said the party "fully accepts the Equality Commission report".

He added that the name should now be reviewed again.

"If a proposal is then forthcoming to rename the park, the SDLP will oppose naming this park or any other public space after individuals, whatever their background or label, associated with violence of recent decades as this causes further hurt to victims and their families and becomes a barrier to dealing with the past," Mr Carr said.

In June 2012, McCreesh was linked to the IRA murders of 10 Protestant men by a Historical Enquiries Team (HET) investigation into the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre.

The victims were all textile workers who were travelling home from their factory in rural south Armagh when IRA gunmen ambushed their minibus.

McCreesh was not convicted of the massacre, but the HET report stated that when he was arrested on another IRA operation, he was caught in possession of one of the guns that had been used in the Kingsmills murders.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy, who has campaigned on behalf of the Kingmills victims, said the play park vote was an embarrassment to the council.

He said the Equality Commission's report had "serious implications" for the council.

"The nationalist and republican parties got it wrong when they named the park after Raymond McCreesh," he said.

"Now they find themselves to be shamed and huge damage done."

Mr Kennedy said the council should act immediately to rescind earlier decisions. He also called for sanctions to be taken against those councillors involved.

Newry and Mourne Council said it would respond, once it had an opportunity to read the report.

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