Unionists fail to change title of playpark named after IRA man Raymond McCreesh
Unionist councillors stormed out of a meeting in Downpatrick last night after a failed proposal to rebrand a play park named after an IRA hunger striker in Newry.
Councillors on Newry and Mourne District Council instead voted overwhelmingly to await the outcome of a process agreed in December on what should happen to the name of Raymond McCreesh park.
The council-owned park has been the centre of controversy since it was named after the veteran republican in 2001.
McCreesh has been linked to the IRA Kingsmill massacre of 1976 in which 10 Protestant workmen were killed after he was arrested in possession of one of the weapons used in the sectarian atrocity.
Last week a banner was hung on a fence around the park calling McCreesh "our hero".
SDLP councillors faced a backlash in December when they voted against renaming the park in order to avoid "stoking tensions".
Last night, a Sinn Fein amendment delayed any decision being made on the park's name, with 24 voting for, 10 against and three abstaining.
The result prompted an angry outburst from all eight of the council's unionist members, who stormed out.
Councillor Henry Reilly accused others in the chamber as he left of "republican arrogance".
Speaking afterwards UUP councillor David Taylor said he was "deeply angry and disappointed" by the decision.
"It's very clear that the republican and nationalist representatives do not want to deal with this issue, they want to try and kick it down the road. It's clear that a narrow sectarian mindset prevails in this chamber."
He said he would now support the possible resumption of a legal challenge by Bea Worton, mother of Kingsmill victim Kenneth Worton, to judicially review the council for alleged bias by naming the park after McCreesh.
Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin accused the SDLP of acting in a "selfish and gutless manner".
During the meeting, SDLP councillor Gary Stokes said the process started in December should be given a chance to conclude.
"There will be an attempt, I'm sure, to paint my party as anti-unionist," he said.
"My mother is a unionist, half my family are unionist, so I'm appealing to see this process through to it's conclusion."
Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy welcomed the council's decision.
He called Mr Reilly's motion a "deliberate attempt to create community tension through demonising the residents of Ballybot".
"This park was named after local hunger striker, Raymond McCreesh, in 2001 through the democratically expressed wishes of the residents of Ballybot in Newry," he said.
"That view was endorsed by council and received no complaints or objections until 2007 when the local Orange Order made an issue of Raymond's name. Since then the decision has been through numerous Equality Commission and legal procedures which found the council acted correctly in respecting the democratic wishes of the community."