Playpark controversy lingers despite pro-retention vote

February 16, 2015

The absence of eight SDLP councillors from a Council staff and policy committee meeting on Wednesday last effectively paved the way for the Yes vote for the retention of the name of Raymond McCreesh Park.

A decision on whether to retain the name of the city play park was taken at the meeting and, despite fierce opposition from Unionist councillors, the motion was carried after the 14 Sinn Fein councillors voted in favour.

Councillor Kevin McAteer was the SDLP’s sole representative present and he abstained from the vote.

Having previously pledged to oppose retaining the name of the playground after the Camlough hunger striker, the SDLP has now come under fire for missing the debate.  A party spokesperson said an internal investigation would examine why 8 of its nine councillors did not attend and revealed the councillors involved were to meet with party officers over the weekend “to discuss the circumstances of the council meeting”.

“SDLP policy is clear: we do not support the naming of any public space after those involved in paramilitary or state violence in the past and we will vote against any such proposal,” the spokesperson said.

“Councillor McAteer proposed a deferral to allow time to consider legal advice offered by the Council solicitor and it is unfortunate that the vote was forced through rather than supporting that request.”

Meanwhile, Unionists have reacted angrily at the decision to retain the name and have vowed to challenge the move.

Ukip councillor Henry Reilly said the decision “will be catastrophic in terms of community relations”, while UUP councillor David Taylor said the name is “a symbol of bigotry and hatred”.

The row is the latest twist in the ongoing controversy.  The park was first named after Raymond McCreesh in 2001 and was supported by the majority of those living in the vicinity.  In 2008, a Newry branch of the Orange Order lodged an objection to the name.  A subsequent investigation by the Council ruled against the objection and the name stayed.  However, last year the Equality Commission criticised the Council for retaining the name, saying the decision went against the Council’s equality scheme and recommended it be reviewed. The review led to a public consultation and the subsequent proposal on whether to retain or abolish the name was on the agenda of Wednesday’s meeting.

A spokesperson for Newry and Mourne District Council said all councillors were invited to the meeting, which “had full plenary powers” adding that “the Council has now taken a decision not to change the name of the Park”.

On the Unionist councillors’ threat to challenge the decision, the spokesperson added: “The Council has no control over a legal challenge”.

Vowing to explore “every legal avenue possible” have the decision reversed, UUP councillor, David Taylor, said: “The decision taken to recommend the retention of Raymond McCreesh Park had once again demonstrated a failure by elected representatives on Newry & Mourne District Council to promote equality to all of their citizens.

“Sinn Fein once again showed scant regard for victims in refusing to give consideration to the genuine and heartfelt concerns raised in the many responses furnished to the recent consultation on Raymond McCreesh Park.”

Sinn Féin councillor Liz Kimmins said she and her 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.”

Revealing that more than 90 per cent of respondents to the consultation have no issue with the name of Raymond McCreesh