An 88-year-old widow has spoken out as she prepares to take the Equality Commission and Newry and Mourne District Council to court for approving the naming of a playground after an IRA man linked to her son’s murder.
The Patrick Street playground in Newry was named after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh, a decision finalised by Newry and Mourne District Council [now Newry Mourne Down Council] in 2012 and affirmed by the Equality Commission last year.
But on Tuesday Bessbrook pensioner Bea Worton is to face down both bodies when she applies for a judicial review of their decisions in Belfast’s High Court.
Her son Kenneth was one of 10 Protestant civilians gunned down by the IRA at Kingsmills in south Armagh in January 1976.
McCreesh Park was named after Raymond McCreesh - one of three IRA men arrested with an armalite used in the Kingsmills massacre only three months after the attack.
Mrs Worton told the News Letter: “My son was murdered on January 5, 1976 and up until now Sinn Fein-IRA have been trying to excuse this cold-blooded murder of innocent men.
“Sinn Fein say there was a war on, but I have lived a long time and I have never seen a massacre of innocents like that described as war.
“Sinn Fein say this was a conflict. But my son and his friends were in conflict with nobody – they tried to protect the only Catholic on their minibus.
“Sinn Fein say that innocent people get killed in war. But my son and his friends were not killed by accident - it was very carefully planned.
“It is an insult to my son’s memory to have a children’s playground named after an IRA man by a government council.”
Her son Colin added: “The Equality Commission is trying to ride two horses at the moment. They have come down very hard on Asher’s Bakery in comparison to McCreesh Park, but I feel this case is much more important. They initially came out very strongly against the McCreesh name but later did somersaults to conclude that they had no power to overturn it. We firmly believe that Raymond McCreesh was involved in my brother’s murder.
“When McCreesh was caught he was in possession of one of the guns used at Kingsmills - and that was only three months after my brother was killed.”
Newry and Armagh UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said the name of the park “continues to cause hurt to relatives of innocent victims of Kingsmills”.
He added: “I think the Equality Commission - between this case and other recent high profile cases - has lost the respect and confidence of a large section of the population.”
Kilkeel councillor Henry Reilly said previously that he was “just appalled” by the commission’s actions.
“When you consider that the commission has been writing to Newry and Mourne Council on this for seven years and yet they can secure a conviction of Ashers Baking Company inside 12 months – it just shows you their warped sense of priority. You have got to ask yourself what is the agenda of the Equality Commission?”
In February 2014 the Equality Commission, wrote to Newry and Mourne District Council on the matter to say that “public spaces should be comfortable for everyone to walk in whether they live in the immediate area or not”. It added that the play park name “presents a significant chill factor for the use of a council-run play park by families of a Protestant/unionist background”.
The council ran another equality impact assessment and by May 2015 the commission decided not to exert any further pressure.
In August 2013 Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she “should have been a bit tougher” on the McCreesh Park name.
“The decision to name it after an IRA terrorist was not just unhelpful but actively difficult for community relations,” she added.
An Equality Commission spokeswoman said: “The Commission can confirm that an application for leave to apply for Judicial Review in relation to its actions in respect of Newry and Mourne District Council’s review of its decision to name a play park after Raymond McCreesh will be heard on 9 February 2016. The Commission has no further comment to make at this time.”
Newry Mourne and Down Council and Sinn Fein declined to offer any comment.