Play park naming debacle rumbles on

December 22, 2012

By Christine Keighery

The debacle over keeping the name of a Newry play park rumbles on, with the Equality Commission now set to examine the process which led to the park being called after IRA hunger striker, Raymond McCreesh.

The park was officially named Raymond McCreesh Park in 2001 and earlier this month, Newry nationalist councillors voted to retain the title.

Back in 2001 the council carried out a survey into the naming of the Patrick Street Park, sending out 199 letters to houses in the vicinity.  73 responses were received with the majority supporting the renaming of the park.

Seven years after the renaming, a Newry Orange Lodge made an official complaint to the Equality Commission and the council began an equality impact assessment. 25 of 29 written responses received during the equality assessment objected to the name and a public meeting as part of the consultation process saw some people voice their support for it.

Following the consultation, Colin Moffett, the council’s equality officer, recommended that councillors allow the park name to remain as Raymond McCreesh, but acknowledged that retaining the name could have a negative effect on good relations.

Now the Equality Commission has written to Newry and Mourne District Council about its decision to name the park after the convicted IRA man. A spokesperson for the commission for Northern Ireland said:

“The commission has received a potential complaint of alleged failure by Newry and Mourne Council to comply with its approved equality scheme. This relates to the council’s decision to retain the name of a local play park as Raymond McCreesh Park on 3 December 2012.

“The commission has written to the council requesting all documentation relating to this decision including screening documents, Equality Impact Assessment and consultation responses.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Tom Elliott voiced his opposition to the name and has lodged papers for a private members’ bill to bring about a new law to Stormont to ban the naming of publicly funded property after “convicted terrorists.”

He said that the decision to rename the park was “a glorification of criminal activity” which had resulted in a “deterioration in community relations”.  Alluding to the current spate of Loyalist protests taking place in response to the union flag being removed from Belfast City Hall, Mr Elliot said,

“The current protests which are on-going across Northern Ireland are an indication of the strength of feeling from some quarters on issues such as this.”