Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Playpark name “blown out of proportion”: McCreesh family say

The family of hunger striker Raymond McCreesh have accused politicians of “blowing the matter out of proportion” amid the protracted row over a Newry play park named in his honour.

Jimmy McCreesh, a first cousin of Raymond, blamed politicians for “playing games” in the run up to the election and said the name should remain “as long as it is the will of the people”.

Acknowledging the issue as highly divisive, he said:  “I can understand the unionists being offended… but you have to remember that this name was first put in place in 2001.  It went through Newry and Mourne council, the unionists were represented whenever this was passed so all procedure was adhered to.

“It was the people of this community and this area that decided to name the park after Raymond McCreesh,” he said, adding that it was not “a McCreesh initiative”.

Ulster Unionist councillors brought forward a motion to last Monday night’s council meeting in a bid to reverse the decision and instead name the park “Patrick Street Play Park”.  This move was voted down by Sinn Fein and was narrowly defeated by 15 votes to 14.

UUP Councillor David Taylor vowed to pursue the issue saying: “We will be exploring every avenue that we have at our disposal to ensure that we get this decision changed.”

The SDLP Group Leader Michael Carr said the name “has clearly caused considerable hurt to victims and survivors as well as the broader unionist and nationalist communities”.

“We also recognise the hurt experienced by the McCreesh family and the pain this protracted situation will have caused them. We do not, in any way, want to add to that.   The SDLP decision to back the renaming of the park isn’t about any individual. It is influenced by a desire to heal our divided society by moving on from tribal conflicts of the past. Peace and reconciliation isn’t just the absence of violence, it’s a fundamental shift in mindset and approaches to politics,” he said.

Sinn Féin Councillor Liz Kimmins said she hoped the issue was now resolved.

“Our position on this issue has always been consistent.  We, and the vast majority of people from the area, believe that the name of Raymond McCreesh Park should remain unchanged,” she said.

“The Park was named in 2001 under the tutelage of a council dominated by unionists and the SDLP.  Council procedure was fully followed and surveys taken by the Council indicated a clear support for the Raymond McCreesh name.”

Pointing out that there was no concern over the name until an Orange Lodge complained in 2008, she added: “That complaint was investigated by the council and it found, after much deliberation, that the name should be retained.   Since then there has been a very focused and nasty campaign to demonise this area and its community.”

Just a day later, the matter was the subject of heated discussions in the Assembly when the DUP introduced a motion voicing concern at the failure of the Equality Commission to censure Newry and Mourne Council over the naming decision.  The motion was backed by the SDLP, Alliance and Ulster Unionist MLAs, but opposed by Sinn Fein.

Afterwards, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: “We regret the pain that this issue has caused, and the experience of the McCreesh family who lost a respected son. But there is party politics being played out here, used to open wounds which we should be trying to heal.”

Ulster Unionist minister Danny Kennedy said while many wanted to see consensus-building in politics, “the same people who argue for power-sharing are taking decisions in councils that are divisive”.

Sinn Fein’s Megan Fearon questioned why the issue was not a problem when the play park was first named in 2001 and said the current opposition is “nothing more than a cheap stunt”.

Unfortunately, the matter seems likely to drag on as unionists have vowed to raise the issue again when the new Newry, Mourne and Down super-council commences on 1st April.