Attwood urges SDLP to rethink support for McCreesh play park

December 10, 2012

By Christine Keighery

Last week’s decision by Newry and Mourne Council to uphold the renaming of a Newry play park after Hunger Striker, Raymond McCreesh, has continued to stir up controversy, with Minister Alex Attwood now calling on his party to reconsider its support for the decision on the Patrick Street amenity.

At a meeting last Monday evening, the results of an equality impact assessment, called for by Unionists in 2008, were returned to Newry and Mourne council.  The report found that no breaches of equality legislation had arisen from the name of the park.

Eleven years on from the controversial name change, nationalist councillors voted to keep the name of the play park as the Raymond McCreesh Park. Twenty nationalist councillors, including two independents, voted to uphold the decision to grant the application for the renaming. Five voted against (one DUP, three UUP and 1 UKIP), while one SDLP councillor, Frank Feely abstained.

Camlough man McCreesh died during the 1981 hunger strikes. He had been convicted of attempted murder and, following an investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team last year, he had been linked to the Kingsmills massacre.

Following days of political tension and vociferous condemnation by Unionists, SDLP Minister Alex Attwood revealed on Friday that he had asked the councillors over the previous twenty four hours to reconsider their position on the park’s name.

The Environment Minister said people should be careful not to glorify elements of the Troubles.

“In my view the principle should be, that in going forward, we should not, in any shape or form, be seen to be in any way, putting on a pedestal, those in state or terror organisations that visited such grief and pain on our people in the past 40 years,” he said.

The renaming debacle, which came in the same week as loyalist violence flared over the removal of the union flag from Belfast’s City Hall, incensed Unionist representatives who were eager to voice their absolute condemnation of Newry and Mourne Council’s decision.

DUP Parliamentary Group Leader, Nigel Dodds, urged the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, to intervene and share in the condemnation of the chosen name for the play park.

He claimed people in Northern Ireland will be “disappointed” that the Secretary of State “can’t bring herself to condemn” the decision to name a playground after an IRA gunman.

When asked about the issue by Mr Dodds in the Commons, Ms Villiers said she did not think it would be “sensible or wise” to “interfere” in the discussion, and reiterated that, out of total respect for the devolution settlement, “it is not for the Secretary of State to seek to interfere in those decisions and I have no intention of doing so.”

UUP councillor Andy Moffett, speaking for families of the Kingsmills Massacre, said they were “devastated” the name of the park would remain the same and the mother of Kingsmills victim, Kenneth Worton, described the decision to keep the name as “disgusting”.

Meanwhile, Independent Councillor, Davy Hyland accused Unionist councillors of “trying to make political capital” from the situation.