Newry Council ‘breached equality guidelines’ by retaining name of controversial Newry playpark
Newry and Mourne District Council failed to comply with its own Equality Scheme when deciding to retain the name “The Raymond McCreesh Park” for a Council-owned children’s play park in Newry, according to an Equality Commssion investigation.
The children’s play park in Patrick Street, Newry was renamed after the former Provisional IRA member after councillors in Newry and Mourne District Council voted back in December 2012.
The name of former Provisional IRA hunger striker – Camlough man Raymond McCreesh – was chosen in a vote which caused outrage in local unionist circles.
In a vote that had gained widespread attention prior to the verdict, 20 nationalist councillors voted to uphold the decision to rename the Patrick Street play area ‘Raymond McCreesh Park’. Five unionist councillors voted against it, (1 UKIP, 1 DUP and 3 UUP councillors) and local SDLP councillor Frank Feely abstained from the vote.
The Commission’s Investigation stated that the Council’s consideration of the issue was “more focussed on process and on maintaining the name of the play park than on paying due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations.”
The Commssion added, “There is little evidence that the duty was exercised in substance, with rigour and with an open mind in the decision making process.”
The Equality Commission has made three recommendations to Newry and Mourne District Council:
1. That it review its decision to name the park after Raymond McCreesh, in a transparent manner that takes proper account of the legal obligations to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations.
2. That it review its policy on naming Council facilities, in a transparent manner that takes proper account of the legal obligations to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations.
3. That the reviews be completed and reported to the Commission within twelve months of receipt of the final Investigation Report, and that a report on progress be made to the Commission with 6 months.
Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner of the Equality Commission stated, “The Commission cannot, and would not wish to, substitute its view for the decisions made by democratically elected councillors or any other public authority, but we do have a particular role in Northern Ireland in monitoring compliance with the approved Equality Schemes adopted by public bodies.
“By adopting its Equality Scheme, Newry and Mourne District Council made a public commitment that the impact its policies and decisions might have on equality and good relations would be fully considered. The Commission recognises that the Council has a long-standing commitment to promoting good relations, with a programme of work to support this.
“However, our investigation has found that little consideration appears to have been given by the Council to the impact its decision in this instance might have on the Protestant/Unionist community or to the damage it might cause to good relations,” Wardlow added.
When the decision to name the park “The Raymond McCreesh Park” was initially taken in April 2001, the Council did not have an equality scheme and the process was very limited.
In 2009 they started a process, which included an equality impact assessment (EQIA), to reconsider the name following a complaint and also representations to the Council by the Commission. The Council decided on 3rd December 2012 to retain the name.
The Investigation ultimately found that there was a breach of the Council’s commitment in its Equality Scheme to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity across the Section 75 groups and regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.
Speaking to Newry Times following publication of the Equality Commission report local Assembly Member Mickey Brady said, “What people must bear in mind is that the request to name this facility ‘Raymond McCreesh Park’ came from the people of Barcroft/Ballybot on the 20th anniversary of his death in 2001.
Brady insists that a survey of people stating their wishes found 84% support for the name. He continued, “Raymond McCreesh was a resident of this district who died on hungerstrike in 1981. He is viewed as a distinguished republican in the area, where I actually grew up, and his sacrifice is remembered and recognised by the people of Newry to this day.
“From the naming of the park in 2001 until 2008 there were no issues, complaints or problems raised regarding the park’s name. In 2008 the Newry District Loyal Orange Lodge, which is not located in the vicinity of the park, made a complaint.
“That complaint was investigated by the council and it found, after much deliberation, that the name should be retained.
“There are currently numerous instances of council owned facilities around Newry being named after people of historical note. For example Haughey House, Bagnall’s Castle and the Albert Basin area.
“The many who admire Irish freedom fighter Raymond McCreesh have as much right to remember him in this way as those who admire unionist peers, British knights and British kings,’ Brady added.
Newry & Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin welcomed the findings by the Equality Commission.
He told Newry Times, “The decision by nationalist councillors to vote in favour of naming a play park after this individual was always grossly offensive to any right thinking people, but the Equality Commission have now backed this up by clearly stating it was also in breach of the Council’s own equality scheme.
“Following a meeting with the Equality Commission on 16th January 2013 I submitted an official complaint to Newry & Mourne Council. Following further contact with the Equality Commission they then commenced an official investigation into the issue.
“There now stands an issue of leadership for all nationalist Councillors. Will we hear a clear statement from both the SDLP and Sinn Fein that not only will they support a review of the naming, but that they will vote in favour of changing this deeply offensive name.
“Such statements are necessary if these parties are prepared to pay more than lip-service to the issue of reconciliation and moving our country away from the terrorism which blighted the Province for so many years,” he added.
SDLP Group leader on Newry and Mourne Council, Councillor Michael Carr said that the SDLP fully accepts the Equality Commission report. “The SDLP accepts in full the report of the Equality Commission.
“That is why the SDLP accepts that the original decision should be reviewed. If a proposal is then forthcoming to rename the park the SDLP will oppose naming this park or any other public space after individuals, whatever their background or label, associated with violence of recent decades as this causes further hurt to victims and their families and becomes a barrier to dealing with the past.
“When the original decision was made the SDLP did so based on multiple sources of advice. However, it transpires that there was still a breach of the Council’s own Equality Scheme. At the time, it was not in the thinking of the SDLP to cause hurt or distress to anyone.
“Yet hurt and distress was caused and the SDLP regrets that and that is why the SDLP Party Leader, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell MP in the Assembly on the 1st of October acknowledged that hurt and our expressed regret.
Carr added, “The SDLP opposes the naming of public spaces after people whatever their background or label, associated with violence of recent decades. As this causes further deeper hurt to victims and their families and becomes a barrier to dealing with the past. The SDLP do not consider this to be an ethical or proper approach.”
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