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‘Historic moment’ as Council unanimously backs Park project 

The will of the people of Newry to transform the Albert Basin site in the city into a 15-acre community park has finally been realised with the passing of the Albert Basin Park motion at last Thursday’s meeting of the Council’s Strategy, Policy and Resources (SPR) Committee. 

There were scenes of elation as the result of the vote was announced, with all the political parties and groupings on the Council voting in favour of the motion.

Newry 2020 campaign group chairperson Brian Cleland described the result as an “historic moment for Newry” and said the “people’s vision” of a city park “is set to become a reality” now that the Council has unanimously backed the project.

“There is no doubt that the passing of the Albert Basin Park motion on Thursday evening was an historic moment for Newry. The positive response from the local community has been absolutely overwhelming,” Mr Cleland said.

Voicing the appreciation of the campaign group members, he added: “We’d like to thank all the elected representatives for their support on Thursday, and in particular the cross-party group who fought so hard to get this over the line.  The goal now should be to make the Albert Basin Park the best city park in Ireland – there is absolutely no reason why we should settle for anything less. We look forward to working with the Council to deliver on that promise in the coming months.”

The SDLP, Sinn Féin, UUP, DUP and Independent members all backed Thursday’s joint motion, which was initially proposed at October’s full Council meeting by Councillors Gary Stokes (SDLP), Patrick Brown (Alliance), David Taylor (UUP) and Jarlath Tinnelly (Independent). During that highly contentious and heated meeting, the motion was diverted to a sub-group of the SPR Committee after the DUP and Sinn Fein voted to block a debate on the issue and prompted concerns that it would be opposed at the subsequent SPR meeting.  Those fears were quickly eradicated, however, as it became clear that there was overall support for the project, with DUP Councillor William Walker the first to give his backing, adding that “protocol” had prevented him from doing so at the October meeting.

Welcoming Mr Walker’s support, Councillor Stokes outlined the health and wellbeing, tourism and economic benefits of the park and urged all councillors to show their commitment to the motion which he said will be “transformational for the people of Newry and the surrounding area”. 

Echoing those sentiments, Councillor Tinnelly said “No monetary value can be attached to the health and wellbeing of the people of Newry,” whilst Alliance Councillor Patrick Brown expressed his hope that all councillors and officials would work together “to make the park that the people of Newry deserve”.

With Independent Councillor Henry Reilly and SDLP Councillors Michael Savage and Declan McAteer all underlining their support for the motion, Independent Councillor Davy Hyland gave his backing and proposed the motion, which was seconded by SDLP Councillor Gareth Sharvin.

Sinn Fein’s Mickey Ruane said the party was clear in its support “for a park in Newry and a park in Albert Basin”, and added that the way forward was for the Council “to get down to work in the committee and deliver the park for the people of Newry”.

 Slieve Gullion SDLP Councillor, Pete Byrne, who has been vociferous in his support of the project, said after the “long and at times unnecessarily bumpy” journey, the victory belonged to the Newry 2020 group and other groups and activists for leading the campaign and “winning round the hearts of nearly 11,000 people” united in their call for a city park.

Stating that his party had listened to the call and sought to deliver the wishes of the people, he said the next few years will be exciting for this district.

“We already have Slieve Gullion Park in our area which is set to benefit from further development in the near future.  With the addition of a 15 acre Albert Basin Park we really are striving to set ourselves apart as an attractive tourist destination. Our Council Tourism Strategy 2017-2021 promises to deliver epic moments for visitors to the area, this historic vote which we have waited decades for can only be described as an epic moment for the people of Newry.”

The decision is expected to be ratified at next month’s full Council meeting on Monday 4th December.