The Equality Commission has produced its draft report on Newry and Mourne Council’s decision to name a children’s play park after IRA terrorist and hunger striker Raymond McCreesh. The play park had initially been called the Patrick Street Play Park but in 2001 its name was changed to honour McCreesh who was captured in 1977 in possession of one of the guns used in the Kingsmills massacre the preceding year.
In 2012 the Sinn Fein and SDLP majority on the council decided to retain the naming of the park after the terrorist. A previous council subcommittee had claimed the name complied with their obligations “promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different religious belief and political opinion.”
The Equality Commission’s draft report is reported by the News Letter here:
The report said that after repeated commission letters in 2008, the council sought legal advice which concluded that the naming was “acting in a manner which is contrary to its own equality scheme”.
The commission added that while some people thought the name was solely a matter for immediate neighbours, “public spaces should be comfortable for everyone to walk in whether they live in the immediate area or not”.
It added that “the play park name presents a significant chill factor for the use of a council-run play park by families of a Protestant/unionist background”.
The report found that the name of the play park “has been the subject of much public discussion in the context of good relations and a shared future [and] is indicative of the potential to be damaging to good relations in the Newry and Mourne District Council area and beyond”.
The commission found that “in the end the decision making came down to party political voting” but added that councillors “cannot approach decision-making in a biased way, with a closed mind and without impartial consideration of all the relevant issues”.
It added that “little consideration” appears to have been given by councillors to reverting to the original name – Patrick Street Play Park – which indicates that the exercise was “focused more on process than on the substance of the impact on the Protestant/unionist community of naming a publicly-owned and run facility after such a controversial figure”.
The initial process of naming it after Mr McCreesh did not meet the council’s own Equality Scheme.
“This appears to have been more focused 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…good relations. There is little evidence that the duty was exercised in substance with rigour and with an open mind in the decision-making process.”
The commission concluded that there had been “a breach of the council’s 2012 Equality Scheme commitment” and recommended that the council review the naming decision and its related policy within 12 months.
The council now have the opportunity to discuss the report and reply to the Equality Commission before it produces its final report.
From the News Letter:
The council said it was a draft report and declined to comment.
SDLP councillor Michael Carr said the report had to be brought to council before comment could be made.
Sinn Fein councillor Charlie Casey said the report had some inaccuracies and that a response would be made to the commission after it had been brought to council.