Tuesday, 10 October 2017

SINN Fein have come out strongly in support of a public park at the Albert Basin.

The commitment of the party to an urban park at this location has been questioned in some quarters.

At a Newry, Mourne and Down District Council meeting last Monday night, a motion brought by a number of councillors in relation to a proposed 15 acre park at the Albert Basin was not debated.

Council chairperson Roisin Mulgrew, on foot of legislation, ruled that the matter should be passed to the relevant committee for further discussion.

But in a statement released to the Newry Democrat, Sinn Fein group leader on the council, Mr Mickey Ruane moved to quash any rumours that the party was not behind the vision for a public park at the Albert Basin.

"In recent weeks much has been said about the aspiration of Newry city to build a world-class public park for our citizens," said Cllr Ruane.

"Sinn Féin is entirely and unequivocally committed to developing a public park in Newry at the Albert Basin site and delivering this project for our city. This is a position we have held for years.

"This is a project that has the potential to transform Newry, and give ample space for families, tourists and young people to spend their time in a state-of-the-art public facility.

Noting "the scale and importance" of the project, Cllr Ruane stressed that it was vital that the city and its councillors were"responsible, thorough, and committed" in delivering it.

"Any public project of this size legally requires consideration of a full range of economic options, including examining all potential options for a park," he said.

"We need to know the full cost. This includes clearing contamination, development of the site and determining future maintenance costs.

"Unfortunately the motion tabled at Newry, Mourne and Down Council by the SDLP and Alliance last Monday night contained no costs, no figures, no plans, no risk assessments, and no consultation with relevant government bodies." Cllr Ruane went on to say that those who tabled the motion were well aware that there would be no debate on it.

"Sinn Féin has hundreds of public representatives in Dublin, Belfast, London, and Brussels and in local councils throughout Ireland," continued Cllr Ruane.

"No branch of government anywhere in the world would approve a plan without any details whatsoever, and without the, legally required, project development work completed.

"For those councillors to play party politics and misinform the public about the future of our public park project is deeply cynical and irresponsible.

The people of Newry deserve better than this.

"We will ensure that, through the appropriate Council committee, a proper development proposal with full public consultation is carried out to deliver a park for Newry in the shortest possible time frame.

"Such a public consultation should include all residents and campaign groups, users of the waterway, government departments and the relevant authorities. This ensures that the entire community shapes a vision for our park, and Sinn Féin will deliver on this project."

The Democrat contacted Mr Brian Cleland the chairman of campaigning group Newry 2020, who said that while the statement from Mr Ruane was to be welcomed, ambiguity on Sinn Fein's position as regards the Albert Basin site remained.

"We definitely do welcome Sinn Fein's commitment to a world class public park on the Albert Basin," said Mr Cleland.

"The question of ambiguity comes down to whether they support a 15 acre park.

"A 15 acre always has been core to our campaign.

We have it on our posters, we have it on our petitions, we have it on pretty much every single public statement we've made.

"The issue seems to be that Mickey Ruane told us on the phone that they don't support a 15 acre park - they don't think that the council should commit at this point to a 15 acre park.

"Mickey Ruane told me on the phone, and I said this on facebook repeatedly, including on Sinn Fein's facebook page - so it's a matter of record.

"And to be fair to Mickey, he wasn't ambiguous about this.

"That's where the difference in positions seems to come in.

"We do not want any part of that site sold off for private development. We want it to remain in public ownership as a publicly accessible site for everybody.

"Sinn Fein won't make that commitment at this point. Mickey Ruane made it clear to me that they wouldn't make that commitment.

"I think they should explain why they won't back a 15 acre park." SDLP councillor Gary Stokes, one of the councillors who brought last week's motion, also said that the Sinn Fein statement was positive.

"We would welcome that," said Cllr Stokes. "It's something that our own party has been campaigning for for many years. It was on our election literature in 2011 and 2014.

"We welcome now that there seems to be cross-party support for the park. I think the great thing is that it has caught the imagination of the people of Newry.

"I don't want to get into any negativity. I welcome the fact that they have clarified their position and I think the challenge now is to get an action plan together for delivery of a park on the site."


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