Park naming vote should be held in public: ECNI

October 24, 2016

The ongoing controversy surrounding the naming of Raymond McCreesh playpark in Newry was the subject of a Special Council Meeting held on Thursday last.

Councillors and council officials met with representatives of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI) seeking clarification on its decision to rescind initial approval of the Council’s ruling to retain the name following a public consultation.

In June the Commission advised the council that it was reversing its earlier ruling citing that its recommendations had not been fully complied with by the Council in a review of the naming of the Patrick Street park after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.  The move was prompted when permission to seek a judicial review against both the Commission and the Council was granted to Bessbrook pensioner Bea Worton, whose son was killed in the Kingsmills massacre.

Dr. Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said arguments raised in the judicial review led the commission to conclude that its original recommendations were not appropriately adhered to by the council.

Welcoming the opportunity to clarify the matter, Dr Wardlow commented after Thursday’s meeting: “We have recommended to Councillors that, to ensure transparency, the Council debate and vote on this issue should be conducted in public and properly recorded, and that Councillors should be provided with a qualitative analysis of the consultation responses prior to that debate and vote.”

He also expressed disappointment that the council had not taken the opportunity to offer an alternative name for the play park that would have “more positive resonances” and that would “be more conducive to good relations between the communities”.

In reply to The Examiner’s request for a response, the Council issued a statement setting out its intentions to act in accordance with the Commission’s further recommendations.

It said an independent consultant is to be appointed to “undertake a qualitative analysis of the consultation responses” and thereafter develop an options paper, while the Councillors’ Equality & Good Relations Reference Group is to undertake a similar study.

The results of this consultation analysis and option papers are then to be tabled for consideration by councillors at a future special council meeting.

The statement concluded that no further comment would be made “as judicial review proceedings are on-going”.

It would appear that the matter is unlikely to be resolved without a fresh vote, the outcome of which will depend largely on SDLP councillors, as without their backing with Sinn Fein for the name retention, a majority vote will almost certainly command the implementation of a name change.