‘Secretary of State should have remained silent about Newry play park’ – McGreevy
The Secretary of State has been accused of “completely compromising” the soon to be published Equality Commission report into the naming of a children’s play park in Newry after IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh.
The criticism of Teresa Villiers has come from the leader of the SDLP group on Newry and Mourne Council, Connaire McGreevy in the wake of comments published in an interview with her in the Belfast Telegraph.
McGreevy said he could not understand why the Secretary of State “felt it necessary to potentially destroy the credibility of the Report’s findings.”
He told Newry Times, “Her comments were obviously designed to make media headlines rather than contribute to helping find a solution.
“It is particularly sad that while responsible politicians have decided to wait for the report to be published without attempting to influence the process the Secretary of State has gone on a selfish solo run. The consequences of that dangerous game will only be negative for community relations in our area,” McGreevy warned.
The SDLP Group Leader said Ms Villiers was entitled to express her views. “But they should have been made in a way that did not destroy the impartiality of her Office.
“For Ms Villiers to say that it was the biggest regret of her first year in office that that she had not taken a much tougher line in demanding that the reference to the IRA man be dropped from the name of the park will show that she has pre-judged the matter.”
Councillor McGreevy said the fundamental principle of not trying to influence the outcome of the Equality Commission’s investigation “had been destroyed by the Secretary of State’s words.”
“As a party the SDLP has made its views clear on the issue. We are prepared to accept the findings of the Commission. However the background to the controversy has been complex from the time the Park was first named back in 2001, a decision that all parties, including our Unionist colleagues on the Council at the time did not object to.
“The brief given to the Commission was to unravel all the overlapping issues in order to try and come to a sensible and acceptable conclusion in order to allow all sections of the community start to rebuild trust. The interjection of the Secretary of State however will inevitably taint the findings of the final report.
McGreevy continued, “Set against the background of comments she made in the House of Commons over a year ago when she admitted that “it was not sensible or wise to interfere in the decision” it is staggering that her advisers have allowed her to make such a blunder on such an important and sensitive matter.”
The SDLP man said that as a result of the Secretary of State’s intervention the Equality Commission report would now be used as a “political football by extreme elements on opposite sides of the sectarian fence.”
McGreevy added, “The decision to have the Commission act as an honest broker over this issue was designed to allow space and time to try and take understandable emotion out of a very sensitive situation. Ms Villiers however has simply given the bigots on both sides of the debate more ammunition to keep tensions boiling over.”
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