East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell has called on SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to reassure victims of IRA terrorism that his party will not allow any outcome which sees a Newry playground permanently named after IRA man.
It follows comments from the SDLP that its Councillors in Newry, Mourne and Down should support a motion to rename the park, but only if it is not disposed of by the Council with ownership then transferring to another body.
The playground is currently named after IRA hunger striker Raymond MCreesh.
Mr Campbell said: “SDLP Councillors failed to take the opportunity this week to enact the wish of their Party Conference that this public space should not be named in honour of an IRA terrorist.
“Comments from the party following this shameful action have raised as many questions as it answers. There is a need for Colum Eastwood to now provide clarity and certainty as to where his party stands. There has been inference by the SDLP that they will allow the name to remain by ‘outsourcing’ the problem. This could see the park disposed of, through transfer or sale to another group with the name remaining in place.
To resolve this, the MP said, Colum Eastwood must answer one ‘simple’ question: ‘Will the SDLP support any proposal to dispose of McCreesh Park by Newry, Mourne and Down Council if the facility retains its current name, even under the management of an outside organisation?’
The MP added: “Colum Eastwood needs to tell the public that the SDLP are not prepared to allow glorification of terrorism by proxy.
“It is not a ‘resolution’ of this issue to see the park handed over and the glorification of terrorism continue under another body courtesy of the SDLP. The SDLP must be clear that they will not allow that to happen.”
Mr Campbell was speaking after Colin Worton, who believes Raymond McCreesh was involved in the death of his brother, said he is concerned the current SDLP approach will see the park retain the McCreesh name permanently.
Colin’s brother Kenneth was murdered by the IRA in the Kingsmills massacre in south Armagh in 1976. Five months later – and only five miles away – Mr McCreesh and two associates were arrested with three weapons used at Kingsmills after engaging in a fire-fight with soldiers. Mr McCreesh later died on hunger strike in 1981.
Mr Campbell’s response prompted a rare public comment on the issue from Mr Eastwood, his party normally issuing anonymous comments on the matter.
“When it comes to the glorification of violence, the SDLP won’t be taking any lectures from Gregory Campbell,” Mr Eastwood said. “During the conflict, whilst my own party was busy building our peace, Gregory and the DUP were busy building division.
“Since entering politics I have always been committed to the unfinished job of reconciliation on this island, sadly I can’t say the same for Gregory Campbell.
“The SDLP does not support the naming of public spaces after those involved in the violence of the past. This is our party policy and it was unanimously re-affirmed at our conference last weekend. This week, the party has repeatedly clarified that our elected representatives are expected to vote in accordance with this party policy.
“There are no exceptions to that party policy, it applies equally whether in Belfast, Newry, Derry or Enniskillen.”
In December SDLP group leader on Newry Mourne and Down Council, Gary Stokes, told the News Letter he expected the current council strategy would likely see the playground de-listed as council property and retain the Raymond McCreesh park name - but in community ownership.
He acknowledged that this was in breach of promises to unionists on the matter.
The News Letter this week asked the SDLP to clarify how this was consistent with party policy, however the party did not directly address the question.