Unionist and nationalist parties on Newry Mourne and Down District have defied Sinn Fein and voted to sell off a playground which was named after an IRA man linked to one of the most serious atrocities of the Troubles.
McCreesh Park in Patrick Street, Newry, was named after IRA man Raymond McCreesh, who died on hunger strike in 1981. He was on an IRA operation in 1976 when he was arrested with a weapon used in the Kingsmills Massacre in south Armagh, during which ten Protestant civilians were shot by the IRA.
A legal challenge against the name was taken in 2016 by the family of Kenneth Worton, one of those killed. This week DUP, UUP, SDLP and Alliance councillors on the council voted to resolve the matter by selling off the land, a move hotly opposed by Sinn Fein.
Colin Worton, whose mother Bea brought the legal challenge, gave the news “a cautious welcome”.
“It has been deemed to be surplus to requirement - but the name still has to go,” he said. “If it is sold to another public body the name should be changed.”
Victims campaigner Willie Frazer, who supported the Wortons, also welcomed the news. “From the very start of the judicial review we thought the council would sell it,” he said. “But the High Court has stipulated that it must be sold at the proper market value. If a community group buys it they cannot get any public funding if they try to retain the name. If it is renamed after that we can do no more.”
Newry and Mourne DUP MLA William Irwin also welcomed the decision.
“People of every background have been appalled that a children’s playpark was named in honour of someone involved in sectarian murder,” he said. “The disposal of this land may finally see a conclusion to a saga which should have been dealt with many years ago.
“Opportunities to remove this grossly offensive name were repeatedly refused and even the legal action brought by a victim of terrorism was not respected by some councillors.”
This may allow the issue to be finally resolved, he said, adding that the DUP would continue to monitor it closely.
Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly also backed the sale.
“It’s important to note that this decision is on the back of an independent investigation and report produced by a internationally recognised company that specialises in public authority play strategies,” he said. “The park is in the wrong place and offers a low ‘play value’ for children and the obvious decision for the council to take is close the facility and offer it to other public bodies like the NIHE that desperately needs to develop social housing in the area.”
Sinn Fein councillor Liz Kimmins proposed the decision to sell be reversed and the local community consulted instead, but this was voted down by the other parties.
She told the News Letter: “The SDLP and other parties have always wished to remove the name of Raymond McCreesh Park and are now attempting to do this through the disposal of the park.
“Sinn Féin opposed this based on concerns raised by local residents and community groups in the area, and on Monday night I proposed that the council reverse this decision and instead carry out a full community consultation to find out what the people of the area want for the future of the park.
“This issue has not been resolved. The SDLP, Alliance and unionist parties have voted to refuse the community their say on the future of Raymond McCreesh Park and instead put it up for sale.”