Council will fight on against OAP to defend IRA playground name

Bea Worton, whose son was killed in the Kingsmill massacre, pictured outside the High Court in Belfast

Bea Worton, whose son was killed in the Kingsmill massacre, pictured outside the High Court in Belfast

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council will continue to fight an 88-year-old pensioner who wants to overturn its decision to name a Newry playground after an IRA man.

The Equality Commission - which had previously affirmed the name - announced a U-turn on Friday in light of the legal challenge launched by Bessbrook great-great-grandmother Bea Worton in April.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th April 2016

88-year-old Bea Worton, whose son was killed in the Kingsmill massacre, pictured outside the High Court in Belast where she was seeking leave to appeal the naming of a playwark in Newry named after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.  See copy by Alan Erwin

Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 6th April 2016 88-year-old Bea Worton, whose son was killed in the Kingsmill massacre, pictured outside the High Court in Belast where she was seeking leave to appeal the naming of a playwark in Newry named after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh. See copy by Alan Erwin Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

But council chief executive Liam Hannaway has advised councillors that they should continue their legal battle with Mrs Worton, which is to begin in the autumn.

Mrs Worton’s son Kenneth was killed by the IRA in the 1976 Kingsmills massacre and she believes Raymond McCreesh, after whom the Newry playground is named, may have been one of the gunmen. He was arrested three months after Kingsmills with a weapon used in the atrocity.

The Equality Commission previously investigated the naming of the playground and decided in 2014 to accept it. But on Friday it said that after considering Mrs Worton’s legal challenge, which began in April, it carried out a U-turn and decided that the council had not been transparent in the process.

It recommended Newry Armagh Down District Council “debate and vote on this issue” which should be done “in public and properly recorded” and that councillors should be provided with “a qualitative analysis of the consultation responses prior to that debate and vote”.

But several hours after the commission’s press release, Mr Hannaway emailed all councillors, advising them to await the outcome of their legal battle with Mrs Worton.

“Given that the High Court is still considering Mrs B Worton’s judicial review against the council, our legal advice is that we do not enter into any discussions on this issue until this has been decided upon by the High Court in the autumn,” he said.

He reminded councillors that the council’s current position on the matter is to note the letter from the commission while adding that it would be “inappropriate for council to comment at this time as the matter is presently before the High Court”.

Mr Hannaway said he had spoken to each of the council party representatives and was happy to meet with party groups to advise further.

But Mrs Worton’s son Colin expressed surprise that the council was going to continue the fight after the Equality Commission backed down.

He said that since the SDLP had said it will vote to change the name, he expected a quick resolution. The SDLP together with unionists on the new council would hold a clear majority over Sinn Fein.

“It would save a lot of money if they simply voted to change the name now,” he said.

“Otherwise we will have to go to court for a legal battle.

“It doesn’t make sense that the council has taken this position - especially since the Equality Commission has now backed down.”

The Equality Commission said it informed the council of its fresh stance by letter on June 30 and will consider the council’s response when that is received.

Sinn Fein did not offer any comment.