SDLP's McKinney under fire for controversial playpark remarks
SOUTH Belfast's newly appointed SDLP MLA has come under fire after less than a week in post, for remarks "supporting" the naming of a children's playpark in Newry after a convicted terrorist.
Alliance Party MLA for south Belfast Anna Lo criticised Mr McKinney's comments to the News Letter, in which he tried to justify the decision taken by Newry's SDLP councillors to name a playpark after Raymond McCreesh.
Mr McKinney claimed the SDLP were, "trying to end division in the council and that they would suffer for the wider good by supporting the naming of this play park".
Ms Lo said she was "disappointed" by her counterpart's remarks: "Fearghal's comments are a backward step for the SDLP. His predecessor Conall McDevitt actually stated that his colleagues got it wrong when they had supported this proposal.
"It was wrong for the SDLP to support this proposal, there should not be any attempt to justify what they did and I hope Fearghal will clarify what he meant. I am sure that when he realises what he said was wrong, that he will withdraw these comments," she added.
Mr McKinney, a former broadcaster, was co-opted to the SDLP's south Belfast MLA seat following the resignation of Conall McDevitt.
He went head to head with south Belfast councillor Claire Hanna for the role, which was decided at a selection convention on September 12.
Over 250 delegates gathered to hear speeches from both candidates, who also fielded questions from the floor before votes were cast.
Speaking after his appointment Mr McKinney said: "It is an honour to have been selected by the delegates in south Belfast to represent them and the whole constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
"People are disillusioned with the stalemate at Stormont and deserve so much more.
"I bring SDLP values and a steadfast commitment to improve our political discourse and champion the hopes and ambitions of people across this region," he added.
Cllr Claire Hanna was gracious in defeat, and offered her congratulations to the new MLA: "I want to wish Fearghal every success in his new role. I will continue to work to support him and the party in every way I can," she said.
Party leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP and south Belfast MLA gave Mr McKinney his seal of approval: "I am delighted to have Fearghal join the team in south Belfast and in the Assembly.
"Over the past many years his commitment to the party has been impressive and I am confident that with the ability and dedication that Fearghal has displayed so far he will serve the people of south Belfast well into the future."