Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Angry scenes in Council chambers as Unionist motion on McCreesh park fails

There were angry exchanges at Newry Mourne and Down District Council’s monthly meeting last Monday when a Unionist motion to change the name of Raymond McCreesh play park in Newry was defeated.

The motion, proposed by Unionist Councillor Henry Reilly and seconded by Councillor David Taylor called for the removal of the Camlough man’s name from the Patrick Street play park, and was supported by all eight unionist councillors.  

Sinn Fein group leader Mickey Ruane however proposed an amendment to defer a decision until the ongoing Council review into play facilities in the district concludes in two week’s time.  This amendment was subsequently passed with 24 in favour, 10 against and three SDLP abstentions, prompting unionist councillors to storm out of the meeting.

Speaking after the Council meeting, UUP councillor David Taylor said he was “extremely angry and disappointed” that the motion had been voted down.

“This is a very sorry situation we now find ourselves in,” he said. “It is quite clear that republican and nationalist representatives on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council have no desire to sign up to the concept of a truly shared society and that is a damning indictment on them and the council itself.” 

Mr Taylor vowed that Unionist councillors will continue in their efforts to have the park renamed.

However, welcoming the motion’s defeat, Sinn Fein Newry & Armagh MLA, Conor Murphy said the move had been viewed by many as “a deliberate attempt to create community tension through demonising the residents of Ballybot”.

“This park was named after local hunger striker, Raymond McCreesh, in 2001 through the democratically expressed wishes of the residents of Ballybot in Newry.  That view was endorsed by Council and received no complaints or objections until 2007 when the local Orange Order made an issue of Raymond’s name.  Since then the decision has been through numerous Equality Commission and legal procedures which have found that the Council acted correctly in respecting the democratic wishes of the community.  The Ballybot community have been demonised for more than 10 years by unionists politicians and commentators for honouring those who took part in the struggle for freedom in Ireland,” he said.

“The park is bordered by Michael Mallin Park, James Connolly Park and John Martin Street and Gardens, all named after Irish patriots. Other public spaces in Newry have been named after those from a British and unionist tradition, without objection from local communities,” Mr Murphy added.

Meanwhile, inconsistencies in how SDLP councillors voted has caught the attention of the party leadership, which has pledged to discipline any councillor who goes against party policy.

The SDLP said its members on Newry, Mourne and Down District Council  are aware that it “does not support the naming of public spaces after those involved in the violence of the past”and Councillors will face disciplinary action if they do not adhere to the party line.

“The councillors are in no doubt from the leadership that if the matter is not resolved in coming weeks via the process parties agreed to, then they should bring a motion to rename,” an SDLP spokesperson said.

“The Newry Mourne and Down councillors are aware that if the Play Park Strategy, which is due to report in two weeks, does not recommend the disposal of McCreesh Park then they will support a motion to rename the park, as per party policy.  Any SDLP councillor who does not support this party policy will automatically face internal party procedures.”