Northern Ireland

Raymond McCreesh Park: Newry councillors vote to keep name

Raymond McCreesh Park
Image caption The playground was first named after Raymond McCreesh in 2001

Councillors have voted to retain the name of a play park in Newry, called after an IRA man.

The park is named after Raymond McCreesh, who died on hunger strike in prison in 1981. The playground was first named after him in 2001.

A vote on whether to retain the name was taken at an equality committee meeting at Newry and Mourne District Council on Wednesday.

It was passed by 15 votes to four.

Those who voted in favour were Sinn Féin councillors and two independent republicans.

One SDLP councillor abstained, but the other eight of his party colleagues on the council did not attend the meeting.

Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said his party had sought the vote "to register our strong anger, disappointment and disgust at the decision that was due to be taken".

'Exposed'

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

The matter has been an ongoing controversy, with the Equality Commission criticising the council last April for retaining the name. The commission said the decision went against the council's equality scheme and recommended it be reviewed.

In October 2013, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell told the Northern Ireland Assembly his party "deeply regrets the hurt and distress unwittingly caused" by voting to retain the IRA name.

Mr Taylor told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster on Thursday that he felt the SDLP were "exposed again last night as a consequence of abstaining".

"They were only represented by one member at the meeting, and the absence of so many of their council grouping demonstrated their abject failure to honour the commitment given by their party leader Alasdair McDonnell to support the removal of the name," he said.

DUP assembly member William Irwin also criticised the SDLP and said the Equality Commission should intervene over the park.

"This is an important test for the Equality Commission. That organisation has been very public about challenging Ashers Baking Company," he said.

"It's time it acted over this ridiculously sectarian decision. It would be a more sensible use of its resources."

'Legal opinion'

SDLP councillor Declan McAteer, who abstained from the vote, said he knew of some party colleagues who had previous commitments, and the decision should not have been taken at Wednesday's meeting.

"We should have deferred the decision because we did receive very sound and considered views from the council's solicitor," he said.

"It was too serious a matter, just after we heard legal opinion."

He added: "The SDLP's policy on the naming of parks is that we don't support naming after anybody who's been involved in the Troubles."

Mr McAteer said the situation was "a bit up in the air because we have to see if the Equality Commission say anything".

Sinn Féin councillor Liz Kimmins said: "Myself and my council colleagues carefully considered each individual response to the consultation on the review of the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park.

"We acknowledge once again that not everyone will be content with the decision made tonight - this was always going to be the case whichever way it turned out."

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

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

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