Unionist backing for SDLP councillor

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UNIONISTS in south Armagh have had strong words of praise and support for a Belfast SDLP councillor whose home was attacked last week.

Claire Hanna has vowed not to be “bullied” from her home after a gun attack which she has directly linked to the current tensions over flags.

The incident happened on Thursday night while the councillor, her husband and one-year-old daughter were on a trip to the Republic.

Gunshot marks were clearly visible on her front window and panes of stained glass on her front door were shattered.

Seven shot marks were counted and Ms Hanna, a Belfast City councillor for 18 months, said police believe an air rifle and ball bearings were used in the attack.

Ms Hanna was the first member of her party to raise concerns publicly about party colleagues on Newry and Mourne District Council voting in favour of naming a children’s playground in Newry after Raymond McCreesh, an IRA man who has been linked to the Kingsmills massacre by the Historical Enquiries team.

The council vote took place on December 3 – the same night as the Union Flag vote at Belfast City Hall.

The day after, Ms Hanna said on Twitter: “Struggling to establish full facts, but on the face of it decision to name a park after Raymond McCreesh is concerning.”

On December 7, SDLP minister Alex Attwood called on the party’s Newry councillors to rethink their decision. Three days later, the party said Mr Attwood’s call had the backing of party leader Alasdair McDonnell.

Yesterday, Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin praised Ms Hanna for her stand and offered moral support in light of the attack on her home.

“I would offer my full support to Claire at this time,” he said.

“The naming of any children’s play park after a republican is wrong and I think it good Claire took a stand on this matter.

“It is clear that it is wrong for any public body to vote in favour of naming a play park after a terrorist. I have experienced damage to my own office in recent weeks, with several windows being smashed.”

Acting director of south Armagh victims group FAIR, Pastor Barry Halliday, also offered his support.

“I definitely commend Claire for her stand on the naming of a playground after a south Armagh republican murderer,” he said.

Newry and Mourne UUP MLA Danny Kennedy, who has condemned the naming of the playground after the IRA man, also spoke out against the attack on Ms Hanna’s home.

“I condemn without hesitation the attack on the home of councillor Claire Hanna, particularly in light of the fact that Councillor Hanna did condemn the decision by Newry and Mourne Council, including party colleagues, to uphold the renaming of McCreesh Park in Newry. This was a very courageous political act.” he said. “There is no justification for any attacks on people or their property. Any protest must remain peaceful and free of threat or intimidation.”