Equality Commission does U-turn on IRA playground

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

The Equality Commission has done a u-turn on the naming of a Newry playground after an IRA man after a legal challenge by a great-great-grandmother whose son was murdered by the group.

The commission said today it has rescinded its former decision accepting that Newry and Mourne District Council had complied with its recommendations on the matter.

In March 2014 it recommended that the council review the name in a transparent manner that promoted equality and good relations.

The council then conducted a review and voted to retain the name, which the commission accepted.

However the commission said today it reviewed its stance after being challenged in the High Court by Bessbrook pensioner Bea Worton, 88, whose son was murdered by the IRA at the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre.

She believes that the IRA man the park is named after, Raymond McCreesh, may have been involved in the murder of her son as he was arrested three months after Kingsmills with a weapon that was used in the atrocity.

The commission issued a statement today in which it said it “has concluded that the Council has not fully complied with the recommendation, specifically around transparency, and has rescinded the decision challenged in the judicial review application”.

It has now recommended that the now 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”.

Dr Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission, said: “When we made our previous decision, the commission expressed its disappointment that the opportunity was not taken to find a name for the play park that would have more positive resonances with all those in the Council area and that would be more conducive to good relations between the communities. That remains our view.”

Mrs Worton’s son Colin welcomed the news - with qualifications.

“We are delighted the Equality Commission has changed its position but it must be noted that it took an 88-year-old great-great-grandmother to stand up to the them before they did,” he said. “That is a very trying ordeal for the commission to put a woman of that age through.

“However we also believe that the commission should be recommending to the council that they change the name and not simply leave it to a council vote once again.

“But if it must go to a vote we would hope that the SDLP councillors would finally find their backbone and oppose the name. They have said in recent months that it was the wrong decision before so now we hope they will vote to change it.”

TUV Leader Jim Allister said: “Clearly, the judicial review has forced the Commission into retreat, which is good.”

He said the commission has been “shown to be wrong in being so easily satisfied that its recommendation had been met”.

“So, I welcome the fact the council will now have to address this matter properly which gives the SDLP, in particular, the opportunity to do the right thing, which I hope they will now do.

“It was the council which inflicted this hurt and it is right that it should rectify it.”