Final verdict on IRA playground due in new year

The mother of a Kingsmills massacre victim sought a judicial review over the naming of a Newry play park after IRA man Raymond McCreesh
The mother of a Kingsmills massacre victim sought a judicial review over the naming of a Newry play park after IRA man Raymond McCreesh

A process which could result in the closure of a playground named after an IRA hunger striker will be completed within months, the High Court has heard.

A judge was told that a final decision on the future of Raymond McCreesh Park in Newry is expected by next April.

I view the vote as a face-saving massive climb down by the republican/nationalist controlled council

Colin Worton

The development in proceedings issued by a grandmother was confirmed after councillors voted in favour of reviewing playgrounds in the area rather than renaming the contentious facilities.

Bea Worton’s challenge has now been taken out of the court list, with a final order in the case expected to be made today.

The 89-year-old pensioner was seeking to judicially review Newry, Mourne and Down District Council for alleged bias or irrationally in naming the park after the IRA man. Her son Kenneth was one of 10 people massacred by the paramilitary grouping at Kingsmills, south Amagh in 1976.

McCreesh, from Camlough in Armagh, was reportedly in possession of a rifle used in the killings when he was captured later that year. He was one of 10 IRA prisoners who died in the 1981 Maze Prison hunger strikes.

His convictions included attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership.

Controversy has continued to surround the park since councillors voted to retain the name in February 2015.

Last year the Equality Commission told the local authority it should debate and take a fresh decision on the park.

At a meeting on Wednesday night councillors voted on three options: keep the park’s name, rename it or leave it in place pending the outcome of a play strategy which includes a proposal to close either that playground or another in the area.

A majority of 23 representatives from Sinn Fein and the SDLP backed the third option, recommending a review of the land.

It is understood that such a review could result in the park transferring to public ownership and a likelihood that the McCreesh name will be retained. The other nine members present voted to change to a “neutral” name, the court heard.

Barrister Paul McLaughlin, for the council, pointed out: “None voted to keep the name. That is a significant policy direction from the council.”

Mr McLaughlin said consultation on the play strategy is expected to begin next month, with proposals and a resolution anticipated at a meeting in the spring.

“Hopefully by April 9 a final outcome will have been achieved,” he added.

“In those circumstances I think the factual background supporting this challenge is wholly different. Ultimately the relief sought by the applicant will have been achieved through an alternative course.”

Counsel for Mrs Worton, Richard Smith, gave a “cautious” welcome to the developments.

He told Mr Justice McCloskey: “None of them would have happened had Mrs Worton not brought her application before the court. Given the direction it’s going, we are content in light of the timeframe to allow time and space for that to be followed up.”

Following submissions the judge confirmed a full hearing in the case planned for today will not go ahead.

Setting out his intention to make some form of final order, he added: “There’s no point in having a rolling review, waiting for a whole new decision-making process and the case languishing with no finality, that’s going to achieve virtually nothing.”

Speaking to the News Letter following the court hearing, Mrs Worton’s son, Colin Worton, said he viewed the latest developments as a “moral victory”.

Mr Worton said: “I view the [council] vote as a face-saving massive climb down by the republican/nationalist-controlled council.

“I believe this decision, to give the land to the local nationalist community, would not have happened had it not have been for my courageous mother’s legal action against them, so in that sense I see it as a moral victory for my mother and every right-thinking person. Never again should a government body fund a terrorist-held view.”

Mr Worton added: “McCreesh joined the IRA the year before Kingsmills, so nobody can say he had the day off. There were at least 20 men involved. If he was not shooting he was in the vicinity.”

Former Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said renaming of the Patrick Street play area had been “engineered” by Sinn Fein.

“Raymond McCreesh had no links, family or otherwise, that I am aware of in the Barcroft, Newry area. He lived and worked from Camlough, at least three miles from Barcroft. This has been completely engineered by Sinn Fein and, unfortunately, they have dragged the SDLP into the gutter with them.”