Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Minister urged to condemn park name

Theresa Villiers

People in Northern Ireland will be "disappointed" that the Secretary of State "can't bring herself to condemn" the decision to name a playground after an IRA gunman, DUP Parliamentary Group leader Nigel Dodds has claimed.

His comments came as Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said she did not think it would be "sensible or wise" to "interfere" in the decisions local authorities made in terms of naming playgrounds, when asked about the issue by Mr Dodds in the Commons.

Referring to the trouble which flared in Belfast earlier this week after a controversial vote on the flying of the Union flag, she said: "The flying of flags outside City Hall is a matter for Belfast City Council to decide.

"It's important that they are allowed to make that decision free from any kind of intimidation, whether it's riots outside and I entirely join him in condemning any attempts made to intimidate elected representatives or politicians from whichever party."

She added: "As to the decisions local authorities make in terms of naming playgrounds, I don't think it would be sensible or wise for me to interfere in that discussion, but I do think what we need to do in Northern Ireland is move towards a genuinely shared future, where these kinds of sensitive decisions can be taken on the basis of reasoned decision and mutual respect for the point of view of different parts of the community."

Mr Dodds argued that a "clear message" was needed by the Secretary of State that "such behaviour and such gestures are deeply destabilising and are very, very damaging to community relations".

He said: "I welcomed recently the Secretary of State's statement that she wasn't neutral on the Union, and I have to say people in Northern Ireland will be disappointed that she can't bring herself to condemn the decision to name a playground after an IRA gunman.

"I think a clear message needs to be sent out by the Secretary of State and this House that such behaviour and such gestures are deeply destabilising and are very, very damaging to community relations, especially those parents who now will not bring their children into a playground where they feel intimidated."

Ms Villiers responded: "I entirely respect his point of view, but I also totally respect the devolution settlement, and the devolution settlement says that a whole range of decisions are now made locally in Northern Ireland and it is not for the Secretary of State to seek to interfere in those decisions and I have no intention of doing so."

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