Belfast Telegraph

SDLP have let us down badly over play park vote, say relatives of Kingsmill dead

The SDLP councillors who voted against renaming play park

By Allan Preston

Families who lost loved ones in the 1976 Kingsmill massacre have said they feel "betrayed" after SDLP councillors declined to back a name change to a Newry play park dedicated to an IRA man.

The controversy dates back to 2001 when SDLP members of Newry and Mourne Council supported the naming of Raymond McCreesh Park.

Two public clashes with senior leadership followed in 2013 and 2015 when SDLP councillors voted again to uphold the name.

On the first occasion former party leader Alasdair McDonnell said he deeply regretted "the hurt and distress unwittingly caused" by the vote, and on the second the party said it was in "ongoing discussions" with councillors to resolve the matter.

Many unionists viewed this as a promise the SDLP would not vote to keep the name again.

McCreesh (right) was one of 10 republican hunger strikers to die in the Maze Prison in 1981.

He was arrested in 1976 after an attempted ambush on an Army position.

His weapon was believed to have been used in the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant workmen earlier that year.

His convictions included attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and IRA membership.

On Wednesday night 13 SDLP councillors voted against a name change to the park, along with 10 Sinn Fein councillors.

Instead, they supported a public consultation, which means the park may pass into community ownership and keep the controversial name.

Colin Worton's brother Kenneth was among the victims of Kingsmill.

"I'm very disappointed in the SDLP," he said.

"I had high regard for many of their councillors and MLAs in the area.

"I was very surprised they wanted to try and outdo Sinn Fein. We didn't expect any less from Sinn Fein, but I am disappointed."

Asked if it damaged his view of the party overall, he said: "It does, but I say that very reluctantly because I have had so much respect for them in other areas.

"I hear talk about the feelings of the local community over wanting to keep the name - but what about the feelings of my mother?"

Mr Worton's mother Bea is presently engaged in a legal challenge to have the park closed.

In light of Wednesday's vote, a High Court judge told her yesterday the process would now be completed by April next year.

Pastor Barry Halliday campaigns on behalf of the Kingsmill families.

He said: "It was a shock they voted this way."

"The reality is if this park is handed over to the local community they can keep the name and apply to the council for funding. So it will still be ratepayers paying for a Raymond McCreesh Park.

"It's a betrayal by the SDLP, absolutely.

"A lot of people I spoke to are very surprised. Many unionists in south Down would have voted for the SDLP to keep Sinn Fein out.

"Now I don't think they would contemplate voting for them again."

Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin said it was a "slap in the face" for victims.

"Both the SDLP and Sinn Fein are very keen to lecture others about equality and they regularly cite the views of the Equality Commission," he said.

"However, when it comes to the glorification of a brutal sectarian killer then both these parties are happy to ignore the Commission's guidance."

Mr Irwin called on SDLP leader Colum Eastwood to respond personally to the matter, asking if he was happy his party "still causes hurt and distress when his councillors openly admit they broke promises made on this issue".

"There is little doubt that keeping Raymond McCreesh Park in place, albeit under community ownership, fits the Sinn Fein 'Trojan Horse' definition of equality. Does the SDLP leader believe, however, as his council group leader appears to, that handing over this park to community ownership with its name still in place, represents 'a solution to the dispute'?"

The SDLP was asked yesterday if Mr Eastwood would comment but made no further response following an earlier statement from Newry, Mourne and Down councillor Michael Savage.

Victims campaigner Willie Frazer also attended Wednesday's council meeting in Downpatrick.

"The SDLP are actually taking on Sinn Fein's clothes," he said.

"This will just push this down the road for a year or two, it's not acceptable. This damages the large amount of trust unionists in South Down have with the SDLP."

Belfast Telegraph

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