Belfast Telegraph

Family of IRA man Raymond McCreesh defend naming Newry play park after hunger striker

By Noel McAdam

The family of Raymond McCreesh have spoken of their irritation at the ongoing controversy over a Newry play park named after the IRA hunger striker.

Jimmy McCreesh, a cousin of the republican hero, said unionists had missed their chance to object to the name years ago - and now it should stay. He said the McCreesh family "feel very, very annoyed".

"This has been going on now for 14 years, and there is continuous denigration of the name of Raymond McCreesh, and indeed the other hunger strikers," he added.

"I can understand the unionists being offended. I come from a realistic point of view on all this stuff.

"But you have to remember that this name was first put in place in 2001. It went through Newry and Mourne council, and the unionists were represented whenever it was passed. All procedure was adhered to. It was 85% of a vote.

"So it's only in the last number of years that they are offended, so my view is, we can all be offended if we want to be."

Mr McCreesh felt that the name of the park should not be changed, despite the offence its name had caused. "The people of this community decided to include the name of Raymond McCreesh in this park. It wasn't a McCreesh initiative," he said.

Yesterday, a DUP motion voicing concern that the naming of the play park and attacking the Equality Commission for failing to rebuke Newry and Mourne council was backed by the SDLP, Alliance and Ulster Unionist MLAs, but opposed by Sinn Fein.

The bitter exchanges came only hours after Sinn Fein councillors in Newry voted to block any discussion of the controversy over McCreesh, who has been linked to the Kingsmills massacre of 10 Protestant workers.

Amid heated Assembly exchanges, Speaker Mitchel McLaughlin told MLAs "stop acting like schoolchildren" and "behave yourselves".

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said: "We regret the pain that this issue has caused, and the experience of the McCreesh family who lost a respected son. But there is party politics being played out here, used to open wounds which we should be trying to heal.

"At the last meeting every single SDLP member voted for an open debate. And if it had gone ahead I would have hoped our councillors would have voted to change the name of this park and councillors in the incoming council will vote to achieve just that."

Ulster Unionist minister Danny Kennedy said while many wanted to see consensus-building in politics, "the same people who argue for power-sharing are taking decisions in councils that are divisive.

"Northern Ireland cannot move forward when shared space is named after those responsible for... terrorist actions. It should not need the private member's bill being brought forward by my colleague Tom Elliott," he added.

The DUP's William Irwin argued the Equality Commission, which called for the council to review its stance, must respond to a "very arrogant attitude being displayed by SF councillors in Newry, assisted by the attitude of SDLP councillors".

Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon questioned why the issue was not a problem when the play park was first named in 2001.

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