The SDLP have been accused of “utter hypocrisy” after voicing opposition to the proposed naming of a new Co Down leisure centre after a celebrated SAS man.
Plans to name a £30m leisure centre in Newtownards after Lieutenant Colonel Blair Mayne, a founding member of the SAS who was from the town, are on hold for three months.
Mayne – a decorated hero of the Second World War and a former British Lions rugby player – is often held up as Newtownards’ most famous son.
But others feel it is not fitting to name a leisure centre after an SAS man, with SDLP councillor Joe Boyle claiming such a move would alienate nationalists.
A 12-week equality impact assessment began this week to determine if it is appropriate to continue with the proposed title of the Ards Blair Mayne Leisure Centre.
However, a unionist councillor has said the SDLP’s position on this issue stands “in stark contrast” to the party’s stance on the naming of a Co Armagh play park after an IRA man.
Raymond McCreesh park was opened in Newry in 2001, sparking a backlash from unionists who claimed it glorified terrorism.
McCreesh, who was convicted of IRA membership and attempted murder, was arrested along with an armalite used in the Kingsmills massacre of 10 Protestants by the IRA in 1976.
Last December, SDLP members on Newry, Mourne and Down Council voted against changing the name of the park, instead siding with Sinn Fein representatives to choose a public consultation option instead.
UUP Cllr David Taylor told the News Letter: “The SDLP appears to be all over the place and is sending out very mixed messages.
“On the one hand they refused to take any action to remove the name of a convicted terrorist from a children’s play park, yet now the same party is refusing to recognise a decorated war hero.
“Their objection to the centre being named after Blair Mayne strikes me as utterly hypocritical and stands in stark contrast to their position on Raymond McCreesh.”
Newtownards UUP Cllr Richard Smart added: “I am not comfortable with putting Blair Mayne and Raymond McCreesh next to one another in this way, but it is beyond comprehension how the SDLP can adopt such a position.”
Newtownards native, DUP Cllr Naomi Cotter-Armstrong described Mayne as a “local hero”.
She told the News Letter: “As an Newtownards girl I am very proud that my town is associated with a man who was a war hero and a sporting legend.
“Blair Mayne’s name has no political affiliations and the SAS had no role in Northern Ireland during his lifetime.
“So to suggest that naming a leisure centre after this man would offend anyone is simply ridiculous.”
The SDLP yesterday said the party “does not support the naming of any public space after those involved in the violence of our recent past”.
A party spokesperson told the News Letter: “The SDLP did not vote against renaming McCreesh park but voted for an option suggested by the independent consultant, council directors and legal advice to deal with the entire issue under the Council’s play strategy.’
“The SDLP isn’t interested in political point scoring on such a sensitive issue. It’s disappointing that others don’t share that attitude.”