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McCreesh Park decision prompts further spat amongst councillors

October 8, 2018

The decision by Newry Mourne and down District Council to sell off the controversial Raymond McCreesh Park in Newry has led to more wrangling among councillors, with Sinn Fein accusing the SDLP of misleading people over the park’s future. 

Following a report into play facilities which identified “surplus assets” in the area, an agreement was made at Monday night’s full meeting of council to dispose of the site as it is “surplus to requirements.”  

Sinn Fein Councillor, Liz Kimmins, proposed to reverse the decision and put the site’s future to a community consultation. Her proposal was defeated in a Chamber vote, with SDLP Councillor, Michael Savage proposing to stick to the original recommendation and seek expressions of interest from Government Departments during a D1 disposal process.  The name of the park will now be a matter for its new owner. 

Originally named Patrick Street Play Park, it was renamed after IRA Hunger Striker, Raymond McCreesh in 2001. The naming of the park led to a protracted dispute, with Unionists demanding the name be changed, whilst Sinn Fein argued to retain the name.

Following Monday night’s meeting, Ms Kimmins said the decision to dispose of the park “reinforced the belief of most that SDLP have a stated objective of rejecting the democratic decision of the people of the area to name this community asset after Raymond McCreesh.”

She said the ratification of the Council’s Play Strategy review at the full council meeting last month had recommended McCreesh Park alone for the D1 process, out of 10 parks in the district which fell below play value set out by the categorisation developed by Playboard NI. 

“There was no rush from the SDLP to dispose of any of the others as disposal was not part of this process, a fact which was confirmed by council officials at the most recent meeting,” said Ms Kimmins. The Sinn Féin elected representative also disputed Councillor Savage’s claims that he carried out an audit in the area which supported the disposal of the park and the site to be used for housing. 

“No one that I have spoken to in Ballybot or Barcroft has had any engagement with Cllr Savage on this issue,” she said, calling on the SDLP Councillor to “present evidence of his alleged community audit.” 

“The attempt by other parties in the Council to force through the disposal of Raymond McCreesh Park without local consultation is an attempt to eradicate the name of Raymond McCreesh from the area.  Cllr Savage and the SDLP should be honest with the people of Ballybot and Barcroft as to what their real intentions are,” demanded the Sinn Fein Councillor before pledging her party’s opposition “to any move in the Council to deprive the people of the area of the right to decide on the future use of this community asset”. 

The Barcroft Community Association (BCA) has also challenged Mr Savage about his audit claims. BCA Chairperson, Darren Thompson, accused the SDLP Councillor of making “unsupported claims that he called to every house in Barcroft and Ballybot and surveyed residents about the future of Raymond McCreesh Play park.”

Mr Thompson said committee members have spoken with over 30 residents “and none of them were contacted by Councillor Savage.”

“Michael Savage has shown a total lack of respect for the people of Barcroft and neighbouring areas with regards to the alleged ‘audit’,” he added, accusing Mr Savage of using the local community as “pawns”, in “a cheap election gimmick.”

Meanwhile Mr Savage hit back and accused Sinn Fein of dishonesty over McCreesh Park. The SDLP Councillor  said the local community will be “fully consulted” on the future of the park when viable options that can be funded and benefit the people of the area are identified. 

“Anyone who I have worked for and been in contact with in the Ballybot and Barcroft area know that I have been open and honest with them about the future of the park,” insisted Mr Savage.

“Contrary to what Cllr Kimmins believes, I have knocked the doors in the area and provided residents with an update on the park and had many doorstep discussions with residents on the future of play provision in the area. I was open and honest with them about the process and I have remained true to that.” 

He said Cllr Kimmins was fully aware that McCreesh Park had been identified as a surplus asset at a previous Active, Healthy Communities committee meeting,  and that “To come along now and cry foul and hide behind a call for community consultation is being disingenuous to the people of the area.” 

“We have agreed to seek expressions of interest from Government Departments to see if they can come up with schemes for the park that are a benefit to the local community under the D1 process,” he explained.

“During this process the local community will be asked to give their views on the options available and if the Council and the community believe any of the proposals are a good fit, then we will progress them. 

“I am disappointed that Cllr Kimmins and her party have decided to play last minute political party games to try and mask their involvement in and approval of this process at every step.”

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