The nationalist SDLP has been condemned after it threatened to discipline its councillors in Newry who failed to support moves to rename a park in the town named for local hunger strike hero Raymond McCreesh.
Raymond McCreesh died on hunger strike against the policy of criminalising republicans in 1981. On Monday, a motion calling for Newry, Mourne and Down council to remove McCreesh’s name from the park, failed.
Unionists had put the motion forward, but an amendment by Sinn Fein councillors was accepted instead. It argued that the council should continue with a review into play facilities in the district, as agreed at a meeting in December.
Unionists stormed out of the council chamber after the vote, furious that the SDLP had not backed their motion to remove Raymond McCreesh from the park’s name.
Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly bellowed as he led unionists out: “This is a republican council for republicans.” The Sinn Fein-SDLP amendment passed by 24 votes to 10, with three abstentions.
Senior SDLP figure Claire Hanna has hit out at her colleagues. Hanna said: “Particularly in week reflecting on the [Good Friday] Agreement and celebrating the values in it, saddened by the vote in Newry. This wasn’t a time for whataboutery and rushing to repeat mistakes of the past. It was and is wrong to name a kids playground for anyone linked to Kingsmill.”
The McCreesh family have always denied, and no proof has ever emerged, to back unionist claims that Raymond is linked to the 1976 Kingsmill ambush, in which ten Protestant workmen were killed.
Saoradh’s National Spokesperson Dee Fennell condemned suggestions that the SDLP councillors involved would be disciplined by the party, but said he was not surprised.
“Activists in the area are well accustomed to the Castle Catholic attitude of this party, with the anniversary of local IRA Volunteer Colum Marks this week immediately bringing to mind Eddie McGrady of the SDLP saying that his shoot-to-kill murder was “a job well done”.
“With this revelation the SDLP, while claiming to be a non-sectarian party that has inherited the civil rights movement’s ethos, has again showed itself up to be the pro-establishment party it really is. While their leadership refuses to wear Easter Lilies, they wear poppies.
“While they refuse to attend Republican commemorations, they attend those organised by the Royal British Legion. While supporting the censorship of Republicans, they encourage British Army recruitment in schools.
“While saying armed groups should be consigned to the past, they have supported both the RUC and PSNI for decades - the largest armed group of all.
“Now their duplicity has extended to the naming of public places. While the SDLP leadership failed to back one of it’s own councillors who opposed the naming of a leisure centre in Newtownards after SAS mercenary Blair Mayne, they have now decided to embark on a criminalisation agenda against the H-Block Martyr and IRA Volunteer Raymond McCreesh.
“Why are the SDLP leadership not campaigning for the renaming of a multitude of landmarks across the Six Counties that are named after imperial and colonial figures?”
Mr Fennell said the people of Newry were overwhelmingly in support of the name.
“They recognise the reality that Raymond McCreesh was a hero. A revolutionary. A blanketman. An IRA Volunteer. A man who gave up his life for his friends, opposing criminalisation by giving up his life - and now the SDLP seek to felon set him in death.
“The SDLP is dying. Losing support rapidly, even in their traditional heartlands where they were bolstered by the anti-Republican rants of prominent clergy. Their elected membership is abandoning them. Their party is rudderless, counting down the days to either amalgamation with a Free State establishment party against the wishes of many senior members, or simply shutting up shop. Their search for relevance sees them take contrary positions based on location rather than ideological consistency.
“In a few short years, if not sooner, the SDLP will be a thing of the past while the legacy of Raymond McCreesh will live on through those of us who share his revolutionary ethos.”