Belfast Telegraph

Council to reconsider memorial tree ban after grieving mum turned down

NMDC's strategy, policy and resources committee is due to meet again on August 15 (stock photo)
NMDC's strategy, policy and resources committee is due to meet again on August 15 (stock photo)
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A policy that bans names being placed on memorial trees on a council's land is set to be reviewed.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council (NMDC) stirred up controversy in the past after it named a play park after an IRA terrorist, but now effectively bans the use of individuals' names on council property.

However, Sinn Fein councillor Willie Clarke brought a notice of motion before NMDC calling for a "flexible policy" to be introduced to allow families and friends to plant a tree in council-owned parks to honour deceased loved ones.

Mr Clarke's motion has now been referred to NMDC's strategy, policy and resources committee for discussion following Monday night's full council meeting.

The councillor decided to bring forward the motion after he was contacted by a woman whose son had taken his own life. She had hoped to plant a number of fruit trees in his memory in a Newcastle park along with the help of young people in the area, and incorporate healthy eating into the idea.

"This would have been a positive initiative," said Mr Clarke.

"I told her to write to the chief executive of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, Liam Hannaway, but he stated that in line with council policy they couldn't allow it because they do not name anything in the district after individuals.

"The policy had come from the good relations committee on the council. It just encapsulated everything that could be named so the policy was almost too broad. The council was trying to protect themselves from legacy issues."

Following the refusal for the bereaved mum to plant trees, the council was criticised on social media and this led Mr Clarke to bring forward his motion.

"The council took a bit of lambasting after they turned this woman down," he said.

"A lot of people made similar complaints and said they also wanted to plant trees in memory of their loved ones.

"I decided then to bring forward the notice of motion to try and change this policy because I think it's important for deforestation as well. Any opportunity to plant more trees the better."

NMDC's strategy, policy and resources committee is due to meet again on August 15.

Within the council's equality screening policy on naming council facilities it states that naming a facility or location is "complex and potentially emotionally evocative".

"In particular the name of an individual can be a powerful and permanent identity for a public space and facility," it added. "This has been demonstrated in particular with respect to the legacy council's decision to rename Patrick Street Play Park as Raymond McCreesh Park in 2001.

"This led to a complaint to council alleging non-compliance with council's equality scheme, conduct of an equality impact assessment, a Schedule 9 Paragraph 11 investigation by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and subsequent further review of the decision."

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