McCreesh Park may move into community ownership.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

McCreesh Park may move into community ownership. thumbnailThe council-owned park off Patrick Street in Newry named after IRA hunger striker, Raymond McCreesh.

The SDLP took a "common sense" approach in voting not to rename the controversially named Raymond McCreesh Park in Newry, according to a party councillor.

However their voting ways have led unionists to express their "disappointment and dismay" that council is now set to proceed with an option to pass the issue over to an ongoing play strategy consultation.

This will explore the possibility of transferring the land where Raymond McCreesh Park is based into ownership of the local community.

At last week's special council meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, councillors met to give their views on the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park.

The council-owned play park being named after one of the IRA Hunger Strikers has prompted a bitter row lasting over 15 years.

McCreesh was a volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Re publican Army (IRA).

In 1976, he and two other IRA volunteers were captured while attempting to ambush a British Army observation post. McCreesh was one of the 10 Irish republicans who died in the 1981 Irish hunger strike in the Maze prison.

Last year the Equality Commission advised council that it needed to review the park's controversial name.

In addition, councillors had also been handed a report which contained the independent qualitative analysis of consultation responses received in a two month period back in 2014, regarding the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park.

Councillors had three options proposed to them to rename the park, retain its name or leave the name in place until a review of all playgrounds is carried out. The council officer had recommended the third option.

In a vote, the SDLP and Sinn Fein voted 23 in favour of recommending a review of the use of the land, in partnership with the local community, while nine councillors voted to change the name - three UUP members, three DUP, two Alliance and one Independent Unionist.

Following the vote, Ulster Unionist Councillor David Taylor said the council "failed to heed the concerns of the unionist community over McCreesh Park".

"Instead, the council has proceeded with an option to pass the issue over to an ongoing play strategy consultation within council, which will explore the possibility of transferring the land where Raymond McCreesh Park is located, into the ownership of the local community. This matter has severely compromised the reputation of our council for too long now.

"When the initial decision was taken to name the play park at Patrick Street after convicted terrorist Raymond McCreesh, it was wrong on so many levels. I can only describe it as indefensible, morally incomprehensible and a two-fingered salute towards those families who lost loved ones at the hands of the cruel actions of republican terrorists during the period of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

"The decision taken has provided a very clear insight into the mindset of republican and nationalist representatives who have failed in their duty to do the right thing on this matter by supporting the changing of the name of the park to one that is neutral and accommodating for the entire population of our district.

"The challenge faced by republican and nationalist representatives at the meeting was clear.

Were they willing to continue to allow members of the unionist community to feel like they are second class citizens in our district or would they take the opportunity to offer an olive branch to unionists by taking the step to change the name of Raymond McCreesh Park to something more appropriate and welcoming to the entire community?

Sadly, they have failed miserably in meeting this challenge.

"The council has proceeded with an option which is not viable and very clearly fails to actually deal with the issue of the naming of Raymond Mc- Creesh Park. The Equality Commission must outline urgently its opinion as to whether council has abided by the recommendations they made on this issue.

"To pass this issue off for further discussion under the play strategy consultation with a view to possibly transferring land ownership to the local community does not actually deal with the matter in hand in terms of the naming of a children's play park after a convicted IRA terrorist.

"There has been an abject failure on the part of council to deal with this issue in an appropriate manner.

My thoughts are first and foremost with those innocent victims of the Troubles who have been let down by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council once again," said Councillor Taylor.

However SDLP Councillor Michael Savage said option three "is a commonsense approach to the issue that would have the entire issue of the play park looked at through the play strategy".

"The SDLP did not vote against renaming the park but voted for an option suggested by the independent consultant, council directors and legal advice.

"Naming a public space, and particularly a children's park, in this way is something which clearly caused hurt to victims and survivors. We must also recognise the hurt experience by the McCreesh family and the pain that this protracted situation continues to cause them.

"We do not, in any way, want to add to the burden of those who have suffered. The politicking that has been played around these issues only serves to open the wounds of the past, wounds that we all have a duty to repair.

"SDLP policy is clear - we do not support the naming of any public space after those involved in th violence of or recent past. Our decision to address this issue, therefore, is not related to any individual.

It is influenced by a sincere desire to heal our divided society by moving on from the conflicts of the past. Peace and reconciliation is not simply the absence of violence, it is a fundamental shift in mindset and approaches to politics.

"Without a way of sensitively dealing with these issues and dealing with the legacy of the past, they will continue to affect and infect our politics.

"Our decision last night was to deal with the issue appropriately without allowing the issue to descend into a political farce with two extremes pulling strips of each other."


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