Belfast Telegraph

Our decision was influenced by a sincere desire to heal, says SDLP

By Allan Preston

The SDLP has defended declining to change the name of the Raymond McCreesh play park.

The party insisted it had taken a "common sense approach" to a polarising problem.

On Wednesday night the Equality Commission told Newry, Mourne and Down District Council it had three options over the controversial park.

They were to keep the name, give it a new, politically neutral name, or leave it in place ahead of the launch of a council strategy that could see the park pass into community ownership.

SDLP councillor Michael Savage insisted that, in picking the third option, there had been no change in the party's position.

He also insisted the SDLP had acted "in the interest of the community".

"At the council meeting our councillors proposed option three to go forward to deal with the McCreesh play park issue," Mr Savage said.

"This is a common sense approach to the issue that would have the entire issue of the play park looked at through the play strategy.

"The SDLP did not vote against renaming the park, but voted for an option suggested by the independent consultant, council directors and legal advice.

"Naming a public space, and particularly a children's park, in this way is something which clearly caused hurt to victims and survivors.

"We also recognise the hurt experienced by the McCreesh family and the pain this protracted situation continues to cause them."

Mr Savage insisted his party had no interest in scoring political points over such a sensitive issue.

"We do not, in any way, want to add to the burden of those who have suffered," he said.

"The politicking that has been played around these issues only serves to open the wounds of the past - wounds that we all have a duty to repair.

"SDLP policy is clear. We do not support the naming of any public space after those involved in the violence of our recent past.

"Our decision to address this issue, therefore, is not related to any individual. It is influenced by a sincere desire to heal our divided society by moving on from the conflicts of the past.

"Peace and reconciliation is not simply the absence of violence. It is a fundamental shift in mindset and approaches to politics."

The SDLP councillor also maintained that unless the legacy of the past was dealt with sensitively, it would "continue to affect and infect our politics".

"Our decision was to deal with the issue appropriately without allowing it to descend into a political farce with two extremes pulling strips off each other," he said.

"Anyone who wants to question the SDLP's integrity on standing up against violence only needs to look at our history. As a party who helped broker the peace, we won't take lessons from anyone.

"We will continue in our sincere and genuine pursuit of reconciliation between people and communities across these islands."

Belfast Telegraph

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