Northern Ireland news

War of words over plan to name new leisure centre after NI centenary

An artist's impression of the new leisure centre in Craigavon
Paul Ainsworth

A bid to name a new leisure centre in Craigavon in honour of the centenary of Northern Ireland led to a row in a council chamber last night.

Members of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council discussed a proposal by DUP councillor Mark Baxter to name the multi-million pound centre taking shape on the shore of Craigavon lakes 'Centenary Leisure Centre'.

The current proposed name is 'South Lake Leisure Centre', which Mr Baxter said was a "working title".

However, a debate on the motion was rejected by Sinn Féin mayor Kevin Savage, who ruled it "improper" and queried the timing - just months before the centre is due to open.

Mr Savage also suggested naming the centre to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921 without an Equality Impact Assessment could have "consequences further down the line".

The DUP's Darryn Causby accused the mayor of making an "irrational decision contrived by Sinn Féin".

He also claimed it was "disgraceful" he had not sought advice on the issue from the council's members' services or the chief executive.

Lurgan Sinn Féin councillor Liam Mackle suggested the motion was "a publicity stunt from start to finish", while SDLP councillor Joe Nelson suggested 'Centenary Leisure Centre' could make the facility a "cold place" for some users.

He added that the DUP had "five years to bring a proposal through the proper procedures" and highlighted that the council has spent more than £40,000 in ratepayers' money on branding for the new centre.

However, responding to the move to push the motion back to committee level, Cllr Baxter said: "I think this is cowardly in the extreme. You are afraid to have a debate in the open."

He added: "This is chaos."

It was agreed that a planned invitation to Queen Elizabeth to officially open the centre would go ahead.

The original August opening date has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In a tweet after the meeting , Alliance councillor Eoin Tennyson said: "An absolute farce. At a time when we should be focused on bringing people together, on helping the vulnerable and delivering services, ABC councillors are rowing over the name of a leisure centre. People are sick of it."

The new city of Craigavon, constructed in the 1960s, was named after James Craig, 1st Viscount Craigavon, the first prime minister of Northern Ireland from 1921 to 1940.

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