A Newry SDLP councillor has confirmed that she supports the naming of a play park after an IRA man linked to one of the most infamously sectarian massacres of the Troubles.
Councillor Kate Loughran, who was elected for the first time last year, confirmed that she had signed a petition calling for the ‘Raymond McCreesh Park’ name to be retained — despite the SDLP’s policy calling for the name to be removed.
The comments come a week after eight SDLP councillors refused to even attend a council meeting where they knew the issue was to be decided, with the party’s group leader on the council, Michael Carr, instead spending the evening at his golf club.
When he was arrested, McCreesh was found with a .223 calibre Colt AR-15 Armalite which had been used in the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre, where Protestant workers were lined up — after the sole Catholic was let go — and cut down in a hail of bullets before being shot in the head, one by one.
Cllr Loughran said last night: “I wold know the McCreesh family personally and they would actually be very good friends of mine — nothing political or anything like that, but just a generally good family in the area.
“They had a lot of suffering dow through the years...basically I just think the issue should be closed and let the family move on.”
However, Cllr Loughran denied that she had made comments which allegedly were submitted to the council in her name and sent to the News Letter.
Those comments — which were anonymously posted to the News Letter on Tuesday — included the line: “I believe there is a direct correlation between the idea of Raymond’s comrade, Bobby Sands, who said, ‘let our revenge be the laughter of our children’, and the naming of this park.”
The council last night said that it had not received a formal consultation response from Cllr Loughran and it is unclear whether the petition which the SDLP councillor says she signed was used by an individual to draw up the document sent to this newspaper.
Last year SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell admitted that his party had been wrong in 2012 when it voted in favour of the McCreesh name. Subsequently the party’s group leader on the council, Cllr Carr, said in a statement issued by the SDLP press office that the party would vote to rename the park.
Last April, ahead of standing for re-election, he pledged that “if a proposal is then forthcoming to rename the park the SDLP will oppose naming this park or any other public space after individuals, whatever their background”.
Since last week’s vote, Dr McDonnell has said nothing publicly about the actions of his councillors, despite the public dismay of unionists and IRA victims such as Ann Travers.
Dr McDonnell has declined to be interviewed by the News Letter about the stance, despite numerous requests — both personally to the South Belfast MP and via two SDLP press officers.
However, the SDLP’s official response to the council consultation on the issue stated that the McCreesh name should be dropped.
Referring to the April 2014 Equality Commission report into the affair, which found that the council had broken its own equality scheme in naming the park, the SDLP said that the commission’s verdict “provided clarity, certainty and direction to the...issue of renaming this park”.
It added: “On foot of that advice, the SDLP is supportive of a fresh motion to rename the park being brought proposed [sic] to the council.”
Last night Cllr Loughran — who is not a member of Newry and Mourne Council, but is a member of the incoming Newry, Mourne and Down ‘super-council’ — was adamant that she was not endorsing violence by supporting the naming of a park after a man who was convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership.
She said: “I am not a supporter of violence in any shape or form. It would be on the family’s behalf that I signed the petition — it’s not for any political move.”
When asked if she was concerned to be out of step with SDLP policy — which is against naming public spaces after those involved in violence — Cllr Loughran said: “Before I even came into politics, this issue was brought to the table — I was only elected last May and the issue should have been sorted before now.”
She said that local residents had no objection to the name of the park and that the issue should now be “put to bed”.
When asked about the fact that only one SDLP councillor attended last week’s vote — and he abstained — Cllr Loughran said: “I haven’t spoken to them about the issue, to be quite honest.”