The SDLP’s newest MLA has defended his party’s decision to support the naming of a children’s play park after an IRA terrorist.
Former UTV journalist Fearghal McKinney, a close ally of SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell, comfortably defeated Belfast councillor Claire Hanna on Thursday night at a selection meeting called after the sudden resignation of Conall McDevitt.
Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr McKinney was reluctant to discuss the naming of the Newry play park after hunger striker Raymond McCreesh because he is a “new, fresh face” to politics
McCreesh was caught with a weapon used in the Kingsmills massacre, one of the most sectarian mass murders during the Troubles.
Mr McKinney said: “An awful lot of what happened and is happening in councils is as a result of certain parties who would prefer division bringing things to council to promote division. That’s not us.
“What our councillors tried to do in Newry was to bring an end to that, in recognition that it had been historically called that, they were prepared to suffer that for that wider good – that it would never happen again... we were dragged onto that pitch by those who would seek division rather than reconciliation.”
Asked why did they vote for something they claim to be opposed to, he said: “It was the way the proposals were constructed but the aim was that it would never happen again.”
Does that mean it was acceptable for it to happen once?
“That’s not what I’m saying,” he replied.
Mr McKinney declined to say whether it would have been better for SDLP councillors to have opposed the McCreesh name but said he understood that many were upset.
He said there was a desire for reconciliation and said he shared many of his predecessor’s views: “We want the same things for the people in the constituency and across Northern Ireland – we want to see this place working.”
Second attempt at political office
Fearghal McKinney attempted to get elected as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in 2010 but suffered as the entry of a single unionist candidate saw nationalist voters rally to Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew.
At the time, he said that although he lived in east Belfast he was committed to the constituency and was considering moving back to Fermanagh. Mr McKinney polled just over seven per cent of the vote.