Equality Commission launches probe into naming of playpark

March 11, 2013

The Equality Commission has launched a formal investigation into a decision by Newry and Mourne District Council to name a children’s playpark after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.

McCreesh was a native of Camlough and died in Long Kesh in May 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike.

The playpark on Patrick Street in Newry was originally given the name Raymond McCreesh Park in 2001, however in December councillors were asked to reconsider that decision.  Despite opposition from Unionists, Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors voted to retain the name.

Following this decision, the Equality Commission received a complaint alleging that the Council had failed to comply with equality laws.

The commission subsequently wrote to the Council requesting all documentation relating to the decision, including details of the equality impact assessment it conducted on the issue. After reviewing the information, the Commission has decided to instigate an official probe.

A spokesman for the Commission said: “The investigation will consider whether, in making its decision, the Council has failed to comply with commitments made in its Equality Scheme: namely to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across the nine equality groups, and to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.”

Under the terms of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, the Commission has the power to investigate a public authority for alleged failures to comply with its approved Equality Scheme.

“After consideration by its statutory duties investigation committee, the Commission is satisfied that it would be appropriate to have a belief that such a failure may have occurred in this instance,” said the Commission spokesman. “This is not a determination of whether or not such a failure has in fact occurred.”

It is understood the investigation could take a number of months to complete.

A spokeswoman from Newry and Mourne District Council said it will cooperate fully with the investigation: “Newry and Mourne District Council can confirm it has received correspondence from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland advising the Commission has authorised an investigation of failure to comply with an approved quality scheme under Section 75, Schedule 9, Paragraph 11 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As stated within our approved equality scheme, the Council will co-operate fully with the investigation by the Equality Commission.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy welcomed the investigation saying the process of approving the park’s name was “deeply flawed, caused great offence and damaged community relations”.

“I look forward to a speedy investigation and am confident the Commission will find that the decision taken by Sinn Fein and the SDLP in December was clearly wrong and that those councillors be held to account and take responsibility for their actions,” he said.