Unionists welcome decision to name town’s new leisure centre after war hero

Lt Col Blair Mayne.
Lt Col Blair Mayne.

Unionist councillors in Newtownards have welcomed the decision to name the town’s new leisure centre after SAS founding member and Second World War hero Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne.

The issue has divided Ards and North Down Borough Council, with some even suggesting that naming the complex after the controversial British Army soldier could put some people off using the new facility.

However, having considered an equality impact assessment, members of the local authority this week voted in favour of using Blair Mayne in the name of the new leisure centre.

Robert Blair ‘Paddy’ Mayne was born in Newtownards in 1915 and excelled at sport, becoming a champion amateur boxer and playing rugby for Ireland and the British Lions.

He joined the army in 1939 and became a founding member of the SAS.

More than 1,600 people responded to a public consultation on the naming issue, with the majority of respondents (69 per cent) saying they agreed with the name and 28 per cent disagreeing with it.

On Wednesday evening local councillors voted 27 (mostly DUP and UUP representatives) to 11 to name the £30m leisure centre, which is expected to open by the end of the year, the Ards Blair Mayne Wellbeing and Leisure Complex.

The Mayor, DUP Cllr Robert Adair, said people are “delighted” with the council’s decision.

“I welcome the council’s democratic decision and welcome the fact that it is a very popular choice with the people of Newtownards and the wider Ards and North Down area,” he said.

“Blair Mayne was a great sportsman and Newtownards’ most famous son and I know people are delighted with this decision.”

DUP Cllr Naomi Armstrong-Cotter said she was “content” with the council’s decision.

“The report came back and the council has thoroughly considered the recommendations, considered the history of the area and what Blair Mayne means to the majority of the people in the town and the area and I think we have made the right decision after much thought,” she said.

While acknowledging that not everyone is happy with the name, Cllr Armstrong-Cotter stressed that everyone will be welcome in the new complex.

“Blair Mayne is a Newtownards son. I was content when they named the road after him and when they put the statue up which was funded by the people of the area, so I’m content that the leisure centre will be named after a local boy,” she added.

Disappointed with the council’s vote, SDLP Cllr Joe Boyle said: “I think the fact that the SDLP, the Alliance Party, Green Party and independents voted against it, thereby leaving the Ulster Unionists and DUP voting for it, is something that sends its own message.”

Stressing that he would have preferred “a more neutral name that everyone could have bought into”, Cllr Boyle added that he will respect the majority decision made by the council.