Rethink on naming playpark after IRA hungerstriker

Newry and Mourne District Council  Playpark which is named 'Raymond McCreesh Park
Newry and Mourne District Council Playpark which is named 'Raymond McCreesh Park

A council which opted to retain an IRA man’s name on a playpark for young children failed in its duty to properly follow equality guidelines – and has now been told to reconsider its name.

That is the verdict of a report that has just been released, which blasts Newry and Mourne District Council for their handling of the controversial decision on the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park.

A version of the report from the Equality Commission had previously been seen by the News Letter in February, and the final, formally-released one appears to be largely identical.

But according to one councillor, these final findings now spell the beginning of the end for the name, which has incensed unionists, with DUP MLA William Irwin recently blasting the name as a “massive wrong”.

UKIP councillor Henry Reilly said yesterday: “I think the council is going to have to recognise that it has more than just one community; that there’s a diverse society down here. The unionist community may be a small percentage – 18 per cent or whatever we are – (but) the council can’t just ignore us.”

He said if the council “has any honour at all” it should now rescind its decision to call it Raymond McCreesh Park, and instead restore its original name – Patrick Street Play Park.

He believes another consultation may now run as the next immediate step, but added: “It think that, in real terms, they will eventually have to remove it. It may not be done immediately, but the process has effectively started towards its removal.”

The park had originally been given the name in 2001, and in 2012 the council voted 20-4 in favour of retaining the controversial moniker, with all nationalist members – except one SDLP councillor – backing the move.

The Equality Commission had probed the matter, and yesterday delivered its findings, saying that there was little evidence the council had carried out its equality duties “in substance, with rigour and with an open mind” when it made the decision to retain the name.

As such, it had breached its own guidelines, and the commission recommends that the council should “review the decision to name the park after Raymond McCreesh”, and look more generally at how it carries out its duties to promote equality. It should do this within 12 months.

Asked to respond, the council simply acknowledged the report, and said it “will be responding in due course once it has had the opportunity to consider the report”.

A number of councillors from Sinn Fein – which dominates the council – were called. But the only one to answer, Mickey Larkin, said he had not had sight of it and did not want to comment.