The DUP and Alliance Party have called on new SDLP MLA Fearghal McKinney to clarify comments in which he defended party colleagues’ support for naming a play park after a terrorist.
On Friday – after being chosen to replace Conall McDevitt, who resigned suddenly as a South Belfast MLA – Mr McKinney told the News Letter that he was reluctant to discuss SDLP support for the naming of a Newry play park after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh because he is a “new, fresh face” to politics.
But Mr McKinney vigorously defended the decision, claiming that SDLP councillors “were prepared to suffer that [having the children’s play area named after McCreesh] for that wider good – that it would never happen again”.
DUP MLA Robin Newton said he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the former UTV journalist’s comments. He said: “Whatever about Conall McDevitt’s exit from political life, he at least recognised his party ‘got it wrong’ when they named a Newry play park after a PIRA terrorist.
“However, one of the first stumbling steps for the SDLP new boy was to dance around this terrible issue and make excuses for his Newry councillors.”
Alliance MLA Anna Lo said that Mr McKinney’s attempt to justify the play park vote was “a backward step for the SDLP, as his predecessor Conall McDevitt had actually stated that his colleagues had got it wrong when they had supported this proposal”.
She added: “I hope that Fearghal will clarify what he meant... I am sure that when he realises what he said was wrong, that he will withdraw these comments.”