I'm sorry for the hurt caused when the SDLP voted to name children's play park after IRA terrorist: Alasdair McDonnell
SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has expressed his regret about the hurt his party caused by voting for a children's playground to be named after a convicted IRA terrorist.
His comments came nine months after Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors in Newry and Mourne voted to retain the name of Raymond McCreesh Park in the city.
The vote sparked outrage from unionist politicians and much discontent within the SDLP's own ranks.
McCreesh, who was linked to the Kingsmills massacre and other terrorist attacks following an investigation by the Historical Enquiries Team, died in the Maze Prison on hunger strike in 1981.
South Belfast MP and MLA Dr McDonnell (right) told the Assembly: "The council was satisfied that they had carried out an effective equality impact assessment and one of recommendations was the retention of the name of the park. The only material difference was to place a new and official park sign in place of an old one.
"The intention of our SDLP councillors was that in continuing with the existing name of the park that no other public spaces in the future would be similarly named. In local terms the decision was understandable. On wider terms, very much less so.
"Our representatives acted entirely in good faith. It was not in their thinking or intention to cause hurt and distress to anyone. Yet hurt and distress was caused, and the SDLP regret that."
Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson and the DUP's Diane Dodds welcomed the statement, but both challenged the SDLP to now seek to change the name of the park.
"It's welcome that the SDLP now regret the decision to name the play park after a terrorist, even though it's taken the SDLP many months to find its moral conscience.
"The question now for the SDLP leader is if he will lead a campaign to change the name of the play park?" said Mrs Dodds.
Mr Dickson said: "It was wrong for the SDLP councillors to support this proposal and I hope they will now seek to change the name of this play park."
The Equality Commission is investigating whether the council failed to comply with equality guidelines in deciding to keep the name.
In 2011 the HET linked Raymond McCreesh to the sectarian slaughter of 10 Protestants in the Kingsmills massacre in 1976. He was also linked to a string of atrocities, including the murders of two RUC men in 1974. In 1977 McCreesh was convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of guns with intent to endanger life and IRA membership. He died on hunger strike in 1981.