Equality Commission revokes decision on play park name

July 4, 2016

Councillors may have to debate and vote again on the naming of a Newry playpark after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh, the Equality Commission has recommended, reversing a decision it made last year.

The controversy over naming the park on Patrick Street after the Camlough man has been ongoing since 2001 when Newry and Mourne District Council initially took the decision.  Since then, in light of objections, the Council has voted three times to retain the name.

In 2014 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 on whether to retain or abolish the name, the findings of which agreed it should be retained.

Following this, the Commission said it was “disappointed” by the decision, but accepted that a Council review had taken into account legal obligations around equality and good relations.  However this was also called into question when opponents of the park’s name launched judicial review proceedings earlier this year.

On the back of this action, the Commission has now decided the Council did not fully comply with its recommendations, specifically on transparency.  As a result, commissioners are calling for the Council to debate and vote on the issue “in public and properly recorded” with councillors given “qualitative analysis” of the consultation responses.

Dr. Michael Wardlow, head of the Equality Commission, said: “When we made our previous decision, the Commission expressed its disappointment that the opportunity was not taken to find a name for the play park that would have more positive resonances with all those in the Council area and that would be more conducive to good relations between the communities. That remains our view”.

It is now up to Newry, Mourne and Down District Council to further examine the issue.

Ulster Unionist representatives, Danny Kennedy MLA and Councillor David Taylor welcomed the Commission’s recommendation, saying it represented “a significant U-turn by the Commission, which although belated, was still welcome”.

In a joint statement, they said: “We look forward to the Council, as quickly as possible, overturning and changing for good the disgraceful and offensive decision taken originally by NMDC and we are confident that there is a clear potential majority on the current Council to make that change, if the political will is there.

“There is now a clear onus on all of the members of Newry, Mourne & Down District Council to do the right thing and change the name of this play park  to something more appropriate and acceptable.”