An EU body has declined to say whether it took account of a council’s decision to name a park in honour of an IRA man before handing the same authority a seven-figure grant to combat sectarianism.
The Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) gave Newry and Mourne District Council £3.7m-worth of EU cash in 2010 in order to “increase community cohesion”, “reducese [sic] manifestations of sectarianism and racism in the community”, and to “embed good relations at all levels”, according to an online EU database.
The same council opted in 2001 to name a children’s play park after violent republican Raymond McCreesh – a name which it has retained despite a stream of protest.
On top of the EU’s £3.7 million grant, another £1.8 million of public money also went into the same funding pot for improving community relations in the region – making the entire project (the Southern Peace III Strategy, which finished in 2015) worth about £5.5 million.
When asked how much it would cost to change the name of Raymond McCreesh Park the council said that it would require just £400, to pay for a new sign.
Local TUV councillor Henry Reilly said: “Does anyone seriously believe that Newry and Mourne has been challenging sectarianism given that it has spent years defending a play park named after an IRA terrorist? No council in the whole of Northern Ireland did less to challenge sectarianism and actually followed policies which damaged relations between the communities.”
The News Letter encountered the details of the council’s anti-sectarian EU funding package during an investigation into the biggest EU projects in the Province. We asked the SEUPB whether there was “any consideration given to [the council’s] naming of a play park after an IRA man when deciding on the grant”.
While the SEUPB replied that Raymond McCreesh Park had not directly received funding from its vast ‘Peace III’ programme (a dedicated EU fund which pays for peace and reconciliation work), it did not say whether it had taken the park’s highly divisive name into account before awarding the cash.
Instead it sent a long statement in which it said the “Southern Cluster, comprising Armagh, Craigavon, Banbridge and Newry & Mourne Councils” received Peace III funding for “the implementation of a Peace Action Plan in the local area”.
It said the “broad aims and objectives for the action plan” were to “challenge attitudes towards sectarianism and racism and to support conflict resolution and mediation at the local community level; and establish meaningful cross community and cross border initiatives that will provide trust and tolerance and reduce levels of sectarianism and racism”.
Council declines to answer criticisms
Councillor Henry Reilly’s criticisms were put to the council (which at the time the money was awarded was called Newry and Mourne District Council, but has since morphed into Newry, Mourne and Down District Council).
However, the council did not respond directly to the criticisms. Instead it issued a series of details about the make-up of the committee which handled the funding.
It said that the “key themes delivered by the Southern Cluster Partnership were Challenge of Change, Engaging in Good Relations, Investing in Our Future, Future Foundations and a Strategic Grants Programme,” before directing the News Letter to a website for details of what these involved (www.southernpartnership.com).
The council is defending a legal action taken by an elderly IRA victim who has been distressed by the decision to name the park after McCreesh. Both the council and the Equality Commission are contesting 88-year-old Bea Worton’s legal action against the naming of the park. DUP councillor William Walker said it was “disgraceful” that the council was using ratepayers’ money to fight the case.