Equality Commission chief Michael Wardlow has been slammed for meeting councillors in “secret” about an IRA playground in Newry – after he had directed them to review the name due to lack of transparency.
The long-running row centres on the naming of a Newry playground after IRA man Raymond McCreesh.
The commission initially accepted the name in March 2015 but carried out a U-turn in July after a legal challenge by Bea Worton, whose son was murdered by the IRA in the Kingsmills massacre.
The commission told Newry Mourne and Down District Council in July that it had failed to comply with transparency requirements in choosing the name and that “to ensure transparency, [a further] council debate and vote on this issue should be conducted in public and properly recorded”.
Chief commissioner Mr Wardlow met with the council’s equality and good relations reference group about the matter on September 15 in what the council describes as “a facilitated discussion space” which “does not have formal minutes”.
But Mrs Worton’s son Colin, who attended a public presentation by Mr Wardlow to councillors last week, said he was now “shocked” to find out that a “secret” meeting had already taken place a month before the one he attended.
“I am shocked that it was all really done in secret,” he said. “The commission is not abiding by their own rules, it is not being open and transparent.
“I would have big concerns – why were no minutes taken?
“Last week the commission publicly rebuked the council for not being transparent because originally it met to discuss the name in a closed meeting with no minutes. Yet now the commission is not abiding by their own rules.”
TUV councillor Henry Reilly said the revelation about the ‘secret’ meeting exacerbated his concerns. “This meeting on September 15 was a closed shop meeting under Chatham House Rules; everyone who took part is forbidden from discussing what was said,” he added.
A commission spokesman said it accepted the invitation to meet councillors on September 15, where it was agreed it would attend “a further meeting in open session” with the full council on October 20.
“Mr Wardlow and the chief executive [Evelyn Collins] attended both meetings and were happy to provide clarification and advice on the legislation and its actions and recommendations on both occasions,” he added.