Alasdair McDonnell last night came as close as possible to saying sorry for his party’s support for the naming of a play park after IRA terrorist Raymond McCreesh.
The SDLP leader told the Assembly that his party’s councillors in Newry had acted “in good faith” last December but such a decision would never again be supported by the SDLP.
He insisted that “the only material difference was to place a new and official park sign in place of an old one. The intention of our SDLP councillors was that in continuing with the existing name of the park that no other public spaces in the future would be similarly named. In local terms the decision was understandable. In wider terms very much less so.
“Our representatives acted entirely in good faith. It was not in their thinking or intention to cause hurt and distress to anyone. Yet hurt and distress was caused and the SDLP regret that.”
Asked by Lord Morrow if he would “rectify” the naming of McCreesh play park, Mr McDonnell said: “That’s exactly what I have said.”
Innocent Victims United (a consortia of 14 victims groups and ex-security service support organisations) said it welcomed comments made by Fearghal McKinney of the SDLP where he stated that he would back a motion to change the name of the park.
IVU spokesman Kenny Donaldson welcomed the “change in policy thinking”.
He added: “The play park should never have been named after a terrorist in the first place and was a gross offence not only against the innocent victims and survivors of terrorism but also the wider community of Newry and Mourne district.”
He said the glorification of republican terrorism is as wrong in Castlederg as is the glorification of loyalist terrorism in Carrickfergus.
Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson MLA also welcomed Mr McDonnell’s apology.
“It was wrong for the SDLP councillors to support this proposal and I hope they will now seek to change the name of this play park,” he said.