The Equality Commission has launched a formal investigation into a decision to name a Newry playpark after an IRA hunger striker.
The move by Newry and Mourne District Council to retain the name Raymond McCreesh Park was met with outrage from unionists and some victims of IRA violence.
McCreesh, from south Armagh, was a convicted IRA member jailed for a series of offences during the Troubles, included attempted murder. He died in the Maze prison in 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike.
The park was originally named after him in 2001 but in December last year councillors were asked to reconsider that decision. After voting to retain the name, the Equality Commission received a complaint alleging that the council had failed to comply with equality laws.
The commission subsequently wrote to the council requesting all documentation relating to the decision, including details of the equality impact assessment it conducted on the issue. After reviewing the information, the commission has decided to instigate an official probe.
A spokesman for the commission said: "The investigation will consider whether, in making its decision, the council has failed to comply with commitments made in its Equality Scheme: namely to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across the nine equality groups, and to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group."
Under the terms of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, the commission has the power to investigate a public authority for alleged failures to comply with its approved Equality Scheme. "After consideration by its statutory duties investigation committee, the commission is satisfied that it would be appropriate to have a belief that such a failure may have occurred in this instance," said the commission spokesman. "This is not a determination of whether or not such a failure has in fact occurred."
It is understood the investigation could take a number of months to complete.
A spokeswoman from Newry and Mourne District Council said: "Newry and Mourne District Council can confirm it has received correspondence from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland advising the commission has authorised an investigation of failure to comply with an approved quality scheme under Section 75, Schedule 9, Paragraph 11 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. As stated within our approved equality scheme, the council will co-operate fully with the investigation by the Equality Commission."
Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said the decision to name the park after the hunger striker was deeply flawed and had caused great offence and damaged community relations. Those who voted for it should hang their heads in shame, he said. He added: "I look forward to a speedy investigation and am confident the commission will find that the decision taken by Sinn Fein and the SDLP in December was clearly wrong and that those councillors be held to account and take responsibility for their actions."