IRA play park row: SDLP will vote to change name

The play park was controversially named after an IRA hunger striker
The play park was controversially named after an IRA hunger striker

The SDLP has confirmed that it will vote to rename a council play park in Newry named after an IRA gunman.

And a DUP barrister has also given a withering response to Equality Commission claims that it could take no legal action on the matter – contrasting its action against Ashers bakery in Belfast, which refused to supply a cake with a gay marriage slogan.

The SDLP councillors on Newry and Mourne District Council have been repeatedly in the headlines for failing to back moves to rename the playground, which had been named after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.

But Colin McGrath, group leader for the SDLP on Newry Mourne and Down Council, now says his party will steer a clear line on the matter.

“If it is brought before our council for a vote we will not be supporting the existing name of this play park,” he said. “Our party is clear that we do not support such names for public spaces.”

His party is “happy to discuss alternative names for the park that are acceptable to all members of our community” he said. He clarified that his party would actively support any motion to change the name, which unionists are expected to do in the near future.

Sinn Féin councillor Liz Kimmins called on unionists and the SDLP to respect the wishes of residents.

“We and the overwhelming majority of people from the Ballybot area, believe that the name of Raymond McCreesh Park should remain unchanged,” she said.

Meanwhile, North Down DUP MLA Peter Weir, a qualified barrister, has dismissed Equality Commission legal arguments that it had no powers to challenge the playground name. The News Letter recently revealed the commission will take no further action on the matter.

Mr Weir said comparisons between how the commission acted in the Ashers and playground cases are “entirely fair. On the one hand the Equality Commission rushed into legal action against Ashers bakery before even having consulted a senior barrister. Having finally done so they then amended the grounds on which they pursued that family-owned business”.

Mr Weir added that the commission had to be “pushed” to take the McCreesh Park case but took the Ashers case from complaint to court judgment inside 12 months. It doesn’t require any legal training to make a comparison of the “vigour” with which it pursued the two cases, he added.

The commission responded that it can only reiterate that these comparisons “take no account of the fact that the matters involve quite different pieces of legislation which engage different processes”.