02/10/2013

SDLP 'Regrets' IRA Play Park Naming

SDLP leader Alistair McDonnell has said he "regrets" the decision to reaffirm the naming of a children's playground in Newry, County Down, after an IRA hunger striker.

The controversial naming of the park after Raymond McCreesh, who died on hunger strike in the Maze prison in 1981, was initially decided in 2001, but a vote at Newry Council last December reaffirmed the decision.

Dr McDonnell told the Assembly: "Last December Newry SDLP Councillors joined their colleagues in voting to reaffirm the name of a local play park, which had been named 10 years earlier after an IRA Hunger Striker following a vote in Newry Council by a broad selection of Councillors.

"The Council was satisfied that they had carried out an effective equality impact assessment and one of recommendations was the retention of the name of the park.

"The intention of our SDLP Councillors was that in continuing with the existing name of the park that no other public spaces in the future would be similarly named. In local terms the decision was understandable. On wider terms very much less so."

The SDLP leader said the Local Government Bill must enable Councils to deal effectively with contentious issues, including the naming of public spaces.

"To have the confidence of local people, the new Councils must fully reflect and respect local people," he said.

"That is why it is so important that local government has the capacity to do the best possible job and provide the best possible service ensuring the best possible outcome for all the people. However, there are times when the best possible outcome is not the result, even when the best of intentions are present."

Alliance Chief Whip Stewart Dickson MLA welcomed the announcement.

"I welcome the apology by the SDLP Leader for the hurt and distress caused by his Councillors when they voted for this play park to be named after Raymond McCreesh," he said.

"It was wrong for the SDLP Councillors to support this proposal and I hope they will now seek to change the name of this play park.

"I hope that Dr McDonnell was speaking on behalf of every member of his party, as the new SDLP MLA, Fearghal McKinney recently attempted to justify the decision taken by these SDLP Councillors."

Deputy Mayor of Newry & Mourne, Councillor David Taylor, said: "It was abundantly clear at the time the decision was taken that severe damage had been caused to community relations in Newry and Mourne, with the greatest hurt of all being felt by the many families who had lost loved ones at the evil hands of republican terrorism.

"The SDLP leader's remarks will be welcomed by all right thinking people, but I would appeal to Mr McDonnell to match his words with action, and to instruct his party representatives in Newry & Mourne to support any forthcoming proposal to reverse the initial decision taken in respect of the naming of the play park.

"That would certainly help rebuild bridges and repair some of the damage done by the original decision and that is something which the Ulster Unionist Party is very keen to see."

(IT/JP)

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