Pressure mounting over ‘IRA’ playground in Newry

Newry and Mourne District Council  Playpark  which is named 'Raymond McCreesh Park.  '''pictureMark Pearce
Newry and Mourne District Council Playpark which is named 'Raymond McCreesh Park. '''pictureMark Pearce

Pressure was mounting on Newry and Mourne District Council on Thursday to revoke the controversial title of a play park named after an IRA member.

The council finalised its decision to name the Patrick Street playground after Raymond McCreesh in December 2012.

Unionists strongly objected as Mr McCreesh was one of three IRA men arrested in 1976 with an Armalite used in the Kingsmills massacre. He died on hunger strike in 1981.

On Thursday, the Equality Commission found the name failed to comply with the council’s Equality Scheme and called for a review in light of equality and good relations obligations.

Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson said the park “must be renamed”. He added: “It is unacceptable to name any building or property after a terrorist. The council’s decision in 2012 was very damaging to community relations in the area and right across Northern Ireland.”

Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin said there now stands “an issue of leadership” for the nationalist councillors. “Will we hear a clear statement from both the SDLP and Sinn Fein that not only will they support a review of the naming, but that they will vote in favour of changing this deeply offensive name?” he asked.

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds called for a debate on the matter in the House of Commons on Thursday – and on the legal definition of who qualifies as a ‘victim’.

“It is particularly important that these issues should be discussed in Parliament in light of the Equality Commission’s ruling on McCreesh Park, which was imposed with the support of SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors,” he said.

Newry and Armagh UUP MLA Danny Kennedy has said the council must take “immediate steps” to change the name, while SDLP councillor Michael Carr said his party “accepts in full” the report and will back any proposal to rename the park.

But Sinn Fein councillor Mickey Brady insisted that the park had been named in line with residents’ requests.

“The many who admire Irish freedom fighter Raymond McCreesh have as much right to remember him in this way as those who admire unionist peers, British knights and British kings,” he said.

UKIP councillor Henry Reilly and UUP councillor David Taylor agree the name could come down to another vote – most likely in the Down-Newry ‘super council’.

“The new council will not be just as green,” Mr Reilly said. At present the two councils have 11 unionist, 18 SDLP and 17 Sinn Fein councillors.