Belfast Telegraph

Unionists launch fresh bid to remove name of IRA man from play park

By Michelle Weir

Unionist councillors have launched a fresh bid to have the name of an IRA hunger striker removed from a children's play park.

They have submitted an urgent motion to have Raymond McCreesh dropped from the title of the park in Newry.

The controversial issue will be discussed next week at a meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.

The council has already missed a deadline to gift the park to the neighbouring Ballybot community, leading unionist councillors to declare they have "no other option" but to submit a new motion, the Newry Reporter said.

Sinn Fein and the SDLP have already voted to leave the name in place until a review of council playgrounds is carried out later this year with the potential of ownership being transferred to the Ballybot community.

Raymond McCreesh Park was opened in 2001, sparking a backlash from unionists who claimed it glorified terrorism.

McCreesh was a member of the Provisional IRA's south Armagh brigade. He was arrested in 1976, aged 19, while attempting to ambush an Army observation post. The gun he was found with had been used months earlier in the Kingsmill massacre of 10 Protestant workmen.

When the park was first named, several SDLP councillors on the former Newry and Mourne Council supported the McCreesh name.

This was criticised by the SDLP's senior leadership at the time and again in 2015 when only one member of the party attended a vote to change the name and abstained.

Newry and Armagh MP Mickey Brady appealed to the council to respect the view of the "overwhelming majority of the residents of Ballybot that the park should retain the name of Raymond McCreesh".

He said he regards the latest attempt to remove McCreesh's name as "a deliberate attempt to stir community tensions".

SDLP councillor Michael Savage said he believed that the council's play strategy and asset management review provided a "common sense approach that had been suggested by an independent consultant, council directors and legal advice".

He said: "This is a process which I believe we should see through before making a final decision on McCreesh Park."

Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly said the motion would be pulled if the matter was resolved - with the removal of McCreesh's name from the park - by Monday. Mr Reilly also said that unionist councillors "had been keen to explore every other option" but they have made a collective decision to submit a new motion seeking the removal of the Raymond McCreesh name.

He said that when republican memorials are endorsed by the local government, then "it becomes a difficulty for the unionist community".

Belfast Telegraph

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