Council ‘could sidestep’ vote over IRA playground name

McCreesh Park in Newry was named after IRA man Raymond McCreesh
McCreesh Park in Newry was named after IRA man Raymond McCreesh

The Equality Commission recommendation that councillors take a fresh vote on a Newry playground named after an IRA gunman could be sidestepped if the land is gifted to the local community, it is feared.

Newry and Mourne District Council named a playground in Patrick Street, Newry after Raymond McCreesh in 2001.

McCreesh was one of three IRA men each arrested with a weapon used in the Kingsmills massacre, five months after the 1976 attack.

The atrocity saw 10 Protestant civilians gunned down in south Armagh as they drove home from work.

McCreesh was jailed for an attack on security forces and died on hunger strike in 1981.

In March 2014 the Equality Commission recommended the council review the name in a transparent manner that promoted good community relations.

The council conducted a review and voted to retain the name, which the commission accepted.

However, a legal challenge by 88-year-old Bea Worton in October 2016 prompted the commission to perform a U-turn and again call on the council to debate and vote on the name.

Now over one year later, there has been no apparent progress in implementing the commission’s recommendation.

According to UUP councillor David Taylor, a new possibility is emerging that the council may hand over the land into local community ownership, thereby sidestepping any need for a vote.

Mr Taylor said: “I anticipate that one of the options to be presented will be a suggestion to transfer the land where Raymond McCreesh Park is located to the local community under the remit of the council play strategy.

“The obvious issue with that is that the local community will be in a position to call the portion of ground whatever they want and it doesn’t actually address the issue of the naming of the park from a council point of view.”

Asked if this would be an acceptable conclusion to the matter, the commission did not give a direct answer.

“The council has advised the Equality Commission that they are working to address the recommendations contained in the commission’s investigation report,” a spokeswoman replied.

“The commission awaits the completion of this process and, until then, will not be responding to speculation regarding the outcome.”

Sinn Fein did not offer any comment. The council said nobody was available on Friday to comment.