THE acting group leader of the SDLP on Newry and Mourne District Council yesterday defended his statement that naming a playground after an IRA man was “the lesser of two evils”.
Councillor Michael Carr, who led the party’s voting on Monday night, said that to undo the name would mean every decision based on the policy at that time “would have been open to challenge”.
However, he could not give any examples of other facilities whose naming had been controversial or would be likely to have been challenged.
If the name had been removed, he said, the “greater evil” would have been a challenge from the Hunger Strikers’ Commemoration Committee who originally requested the Raymond McCreesh name.
“I know people are hurting. A lot of things were said about Raymond McCreesh which were not true – he was not a mass murderer. We have considered this issue in depth. We were wrong if we did it and wrong if we didn’t,” said Mr Carr.
Asked if it fulfills the council’s legal responsibility to promote good relations by naming council facilities after someone with multiple terrorism convictions and who has been linked by the HET to a sectarian mass murder, Mr Carr said: “We have been through equality and equality impact assessments. The recommendation was to leave the name as it was, even if 16 per cent of people were not happy.”
Did the Equality Commission advise the council to keep the name as it was?
“Certainly our officials advised us to keep it the way it was. The Equality Commission would not have used that language.”
He added: “I understand Raymond McCreesh was arrested with a weapon. Whether that places him at that incident [the Kingsmills massacre] I am not sure. I thought it was a bit of a jump from having the weapon to actually placing him at the scene of the Kingsmills massacre. I don’t know who would want to stir this up.”
On the issue of what values the playground is communicating to the next generation using it, Mr Carr said: “I am not sure what message it is sending. We have places named after many people in the past relating to various wars.”
Asked if he thought the Hunger Strikers’ Committee would win a legal challenge if the name was removed, the SDLP man said: “I am not saying that. But we have to follow advice. The recommendation was to let it sit and that the park would be kept as a neutral environment.”
Is the Raymond McCreesh playground now neutral?
“It was an area with a lot of signage and messages, illegal signs and all that has been removed. I am not calling it neutral [now]. But we have removed all the republican paraphernalia for a number of years.”
Asked if a clear case had been presented as to what the “greater evil” would have been in Newry if the name of the playground had been changed, Mr Carr said: “A decision had to be made. This has been running on for 11 years.”