Published Tuesday, 01 October 2013
The Equality Commission will look into the naming of the playpark. (© Getty)
Last year Newry and Mourne District councillors voted to retain the name of The Raymond McCreesh Park, sparking outrage from unionist politicians.
South Armagh man McCreesh was a convicted IRA member who had been jailed during the Troubles for offences including attempted murder.
Speaking at the Assembly on Tuesday, Dr McDonnell said: "Last December, in Newry, our SDLP councillors, in good faith, joined with their colleagues in voting to reaffirm the name of a play park after an IRA hunger striker.
"That play park had been named 10 years previously by a vote in Newry council, supported by a broad cross-section of councillors, unionist and nationalist.
"The play park had been known as McCreesh Park for 10 years.
"The council was satisfied, following the consultation process which included written responses and a public meeting, that it had carried out an effective equality impact assessment.
"One of the council's recommendations was the retention of the name."
In local terms, the decision was understandable but, in wider terms, it was not understood.
"The only material difference from what had been the case for 10 years was to place a new official sign in the place of an old one," he told MLAs.
"I can assure you that the intention of our councillors was sensible and reasonable because, in continuing with the existing name of the park, no other public spaces would be named as such in future."
Dr McDonnell added: "Our representatives acted entirely in good faith.
"It was not their thinking or intention to cause any hurt or distress to anyone, yet hurt and distress were caused, and the SDLP - myself in particular - deeply regret that."
He went on: "We have to accept that good people with the best of intentions can, sometimes, do things that appear to be wrong with hindsight."
The DUP and Alliance have welcomed Mr McDonnell's comments.
The Equality Commission is investigating whether the council failed to comply with equality guidelines in deciding to keep the name, which was first adopted in 2001.
© UTV News