Terror victims have demanded a meeting with SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell after allegations that his party did not disclose its true role in the naming of a Newry playground after an IRA terrorist.
Thursday’s News Letter reported claims that the SDLP was not caught out by the recent meeting to vote through the Raymond McCreesh Park name – as the party had claimed – but actually requested the meeting and then declined to attend.
The party had given the impression that it was not expecting a decision on the park name to be taken at the meeting a fortnight ago, with Mr McDonnell explaining the absence of SDLP councillors from the meeting in the context of an expectation that the issue would be “deferred”.
But Sinn Fein leader on the council, Mickey Ruane, told the News Letter that the SDLP “requested the meeting and asked that it be given full [voting] powers”.
The SDLP insists it “responded to a proposal for a special meeting” and that its councillors believed that it would have been best to refer the matter to the full council for consideration.
However, the committee minutes of January 19 recorded that SDLP councillor Michael Carr proposed – and party colleague John McArdle seconded – a special meeting of the committee with full plenary powers within a week to 10 days to discuss the consultation on a review of the park’s name.
A furious Kenny Dondaldson of terror victims’ umbrella group Innocent Victims United (IVU) hit back yesterday, “demanding” a meeting with Mr McDonnell about his “dissident” councillors; the party previously said it opposed the name.
Mr Donaldson said terror victims would be left “confused, frustrated and with compounded hurt” to hear that the SDLP had requested and empowered a meeting to confirm the park’s name – but then failed to turn up for the vote.
“The position taken by the councillors is indicative of a much wider problem where elected representatives are increasingly prepared to show disdain for victims and survivors in order to avoid confrontation with terrorists’ organisations or their political voice,” he said.
Alliance justice spokesperson Stewart Dickson said: “This shambles only appears to be getting more unbelievable. Why request a meeting on such an important issue, then fail to even turn up?”
He said that “after breaking his media silence that lasted nearly two weeks, Alasdair McDonnell could only muster a half-baked apology” for his councillors’ actions.
The SDLP made no direct comment on IVU’s request for an urgent meeting with its leader.
“The position of the party leadership is that no public space should be named after those involved in state or paramilitary violence,” a spokesman said.
“Senior party representatives will continue to work with Newry and Mourne councillors to ensure this issue is resolved as soon as possible. The SDLP is committed to dealing with the past comprehensively and ethically and will always endeavour to meet with victims and survivors to discuss particular issues.”