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Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

McCreesh Park name to be retained, for now

The contentious dispute over the naming of a Newry playpark after Camlough Hungerstriker Raymond McCreesh returned to the fore when it was debated at a meeting of Newry Mourne and Down District Council on Wednesday last.

There were heated exchanges as Nationalist and Unionist councillors clashed over proposals to retain or change the name of the Patrick Street park.  In the end, it was more a case of ‘kick the can down the road’, as it was unanimously decided to defer the issue for community decision as part of the Council’s play strategy public consultation, due to be carried out next year.

Councillors were given three options – to either rename the park, retain its name or leave the name in place until ownership of the land is determined when the play strategy consultation is completed.

The SDLP and Sinn Fein voted 23 in favour of deferring the decision until the use of the land is reviewed, while nine councillors (three DUP, three UUP, two Alliance and one Independent Unionist) voted to change the name.  And so it stands, the name of Raymond McCreesh Park will stay, at least for now.

Afterwards, SDLP councillor Michael Savage – whose party had previously pledged to support a decision to change the name of  the park – defended its decision to take no immediate action, describing the adopted proposal as “a common sense approach”.

“The SDLP did not vote against renaming the park but voted for an option suggested by the independent consultant, council directors and legal advice,” Councillor Savage said.  “We do not, in any way, want to add to the burden of those who have suffered. The politicking that has been played around these issues only serves to open the wounds of the past; wounds that we all have a duty to repair. We must also recognise the hurt experienced by the McCreesh family and the pain that this protracted situation continues to cause them.”

Stating that the “SDLP policy is clear”, he added: “We do not support the naming of any public space after those involved in the violence of our recent past. Our decision to address this issue, therefore, is not related to any individual. It is influenced by a sincere desire to heal our divided society by moving on from the conflicts of the past.”  And given the “polar opposite views” on the issue, he said the vote to defer to the community “will help solve it long term”.

Agreeing the outcome of the vote is more favourable for the community, Council Deputy Chair, Sinn Fein’s Willie Clarke, said: “We have a Council strategy which is about to go out to consultation around January.  There will be a good opportunity for the local community to talk about the Raymond McCreesh Park. It’s an opportunity to see what’s best for the community.”

His party colleague, Councillor Charlie Casey expressed confidence that the decision “will be supported by the people of Ballybot”.

Stating the Council vote is “recognition of the esteem and respect in which Raymond McCreesh is held by the people of Ballybot, he said: “Currently Newry, Mourne and Down District Council are undertaking a Play Review Strategy for all recreational facilities in the district.  During this, residents of the Ballybot area will be given the opportunity once again to decide the future of Raymond McCreesh Park through a public consultation.  Sinn Féin support the right of the residents of Ballybot to determine the future of their local facilities, and to name them in any way they see fit.”

Unionist politicians argued however that the change in ownership of the park’s land will not alter the situation and that a private owner may continue to use the McCreesh name.

UUP councillor David Taylor Claimed the council had “failed to actually deal with” the issue: “To pass this issue off for further discussion under the play strategy consultation with a view to possibly transferring land ownership to the local community does not actually deal with the matter in hand in terms of the naming of a children’s play park after a convicted IRA terrorist,” Mr Taylor said.

“There has been an abject failure on the part of Council to deal with this issue in an appropriate manner” and he said his thoughts are “with those innocent victims of the Troubles” who once again have been let down by the Council.

DUP MLA William Irwin branded the vote a “slap in the face” to victims of IRA violence and he accused both Sinn Fein and the SDLP of only using equality “when it suits their own political agendas”.

Describing the decision as “a complete abdication of responsibility”, he said: “Consulting on the issue for a potential disposal of the park is not a resolution, it is a fudge and it is offensive to the victims of IRA terrorism.”

Expressing his disappointment at the result, Independent unionist Henry Reilly said, “I think the Council is trying to out-manoeuvre a current legal case that’s still going on and kick it down the road a bit.  This should have been a very constructive move towards making sure the Council is open to everybody and a warm house for everyone.”