A play park in Newry has been held up by unionists as a symbol of ‘Sinn Fein intransigence’ after the party blocked a new attempt to change its name.
The park is named Raymond McCreesh Park, in memory of the 24-year-old IRA man who died on hunger strike in 1981.
McCreesh was one of 10 republican prisoners who died in the struggle against criminalisation in 1981. The playground in Newry was first named after him in 2001.
Unionist have expressed outrage after a vote on renaming the park did not go ahead this week when Sinn Fein councillors voted against allowing a motion to be discussed.
In a change of tack, nationalist SDLP councillors backed the suspension of standing orders (and the name change), but Sinn Fein councillors voted against the motion, which was narrowly defeated 15 to 14.
It was the final full meeting of Newry and Mourne council before it is merged with two others in the new Newry, Mourne and Down ‘super-council’.
Last month, a majority of the council’s equality committee voted to retain the park’s name, when eight SDLP members were absent.
During a heated discussion at the council this week, Ulster Unionist councillor David Taylor said the issue “will not go away”.
UKIP councillor Henry Reilly said row over the park’s name had been turned into a “sectarian issue”.
Sinn Fein councillor Liz Kimmins said she hoped the row was now resolved.
“Our position on this issue has always been consistent. We and the vast majority of people from the area believe that the name of Raymond McCreesh Park should remain unchanged,” she said.
Meanwhile, unionists could be set to overturn a vote by nationalist councillors to use the Irish language in the title of the new Mid-Ulster super-council. Another council vote which is facing a potential reversal is a decision to ban the sale of poppies and Easter lilies from council buildings.
The Mid-Ulster shadow council will come to full power next month after Magherafelt, Cookstown and Dungannon councils merge.
Unionist say they then plan to use a quirky new legal mechanism known as a ‘call-in’, which requires super-council decisions to be reviewed by solicitors to ensure they do not have an adverse effect on a section of the community.
A planned vote for an end to the flying the British Union Jack at all council buildings is also likely to end up in the hands of the solicitors, according to reports.
It seems unlikely that unionist councillors have any basis to subject the name of McCreesh Park to a ‘call in’, as has been threatened.
Sinn Fein’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness has said such issues are “much ado about nothing”, and noted how almost daily he passes a statue of unionist gunrunner Edward Carson.
In a recent interview, he said believes such issues must be addressed by the commission on identity, which has yet to be established as part of December’s Stormont House Agreement.