Ulster Unionists meet equality body over Newry playpark

Dr Michael Wardlow of the Equality Commission. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Dr Michael Wardlow of the Equality Commission. 'Pic Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Senior members of the Ulster Unionist Party have had a “robust” meeting with the Equality Commission over the Newry playpark named after an IRA hunger striker.

Last week, the commission revealed that it would not be exerting any further pressure on Newry, Mourne and Down Council to change the name of Raymond McCreesh Park – seven years after it began correspondence with the local authority – despite being “disappointed” at the councillors’ refusal.

Tensions have run high over the matter because the Historical Enquiries Team revealed that McCreesh was arrested with a rifle used in the Kingsmills massacre only three months after the 1976 atrocity.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott said there had been a “frank exchange of views” over the latest development in the dispute. Newry and Armagh MLA Danny Kennedy also attended, along with councillors David Taylor and Harold McKee.

Mr Kennedy said the UUP would reflect carefully “on the options going forward in this case,” and reaffirmed the party’s opposition to “the disgraceful and offensive naming of the play park after a convicted republican terrorist”.

Councillor’s Taylor and McKee also confirmed their ongoing commitment to forcing the new local authority to change the name of the play park “in the interests of common decency and community relations” at the earliest opportunity.

After the meeting with the UUP delegation, chief commissioner of the Equality Commission said the body’s role was to make recommendations on compliance with equality schemes, and that when the requirements had been followed it “cannot take a decision for, or substitute its view for, the decisions of elected councillors or any other public authority”.

Dr Michael Wardlow also said he had “reiterated the disappointment which the commission had already expressed on the lack of generous and courageous leadership in taking the decision to retain the name”.

Mr Wardlow went on to say the “power to change the situation and ensure that good community relations might be rebuilt remains with the members of the newly elected council,” and added: “The commission remains willing to support the staff and councillors in this endeavour. A key part of that must be that future decisions be taken with a view to challenging prejudice and promoting greater mutual understanding,”