The SDLP is determined to proceed with plans that will see a Newry playground permanently named after an IRA man, according to a victim closely linked to the case.
Colin Worton was speaking in response to a fresh SDLP commitment to pass McCreesh Park in Newry into community hands, the property being named after an IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.
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 firefight with soldiers. McCreesh later died on hunger strike in 1981.
On Monday in Newry Mourne and Down Council unionists proposed a motion for the council playground to revert to its original name.
However, this was defeated by a Sinn Fein amendment seconded by the SDLP, to proceed in handing the property into community hands.
In December SDLP group leader on the council, Gary Stokes, admitted to the News Letter that this approach will likely see the park permanently named after McCreesh.
“Yes, but it will no longer be a public play park,” he said. Asked if the SDLP had therefore changed its policy, Mr Stokes replied that it had – and that the move had actually been approved by the party leadership.
“Yes you are correct,” he said. “But this has been agreed by the party centrally.”
Previous SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell had assured unionists that his councillors would vote to change the name at the next opportunity.
The News Letter approached SDLP headquarters this week to clarify if the party understands that its Newry group leader believes the current play park strategy will see the playground permanently named after an IRA man.
This paper also asked why it has previously suspended Belfast councillors for defying the party whip in an abortion vote but had taken no disciplinary action against Newry councillors for failing to change the park name.
The party response did not address Mr Stokes’ comments, but rather affirmed that it was actually holding the councillors accountable to urgently de-list the Newry plaground from council ownership.
An SDLP spokeswoman said: “The Newry Mourne and Down councillors are aware that if the play park strategy, which is due to report in two weeks, does not recommend the disposal of McCreesh Park then they will support a motion to rename the park, as per party policy. Any SDLP councillor who does not support a party policy automatically faces internal party procedures.”
But Mr Worton said the party’s plans will “leave us no better off”.
His family brought a legal challenge against the name, which is now on hold.
“This is not our understanding of what we took our legal challenge for,” he said.
“We did not take a legal challenge to hand the park into private ownership and retain the McCreesh name in this way.”