Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Parades: March commemorating IRA bombers 'insensitive and inappropriate' says Robinson

Peter Robinson has said the Sinn Fein-backed parade is "insensitive and inappropriate"
Peter Robinson has said the Sinn Fein-backed parade is "insensitive and inappropriate"

A Sinn Fein backed parade to commemorate two IRA bombers in the Co Tyrone town they were intending to target is insensitive and inappropriate, Stormont's First Minister has said.

But while Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson heavily criticised proposals for the event in Castlederg next month, Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness insisted people of all traditions in the region had a right to honour their dead.

Mr McGuinness said any commemoration should be done in a way that would not offend people and said a decision by the parade organisers to voluntarily reroute it away from the town's war memorial was sensible.

The Tyrone Volunteers Day event will mark the deaths of Castlederg IRA men Seamus Harvey, 23, and Gerard McGlynn, 20, who died in 1973 when a car bomb they were understood to be transporting to the town detonated early.

The explosion happened around three miles away at an Irish customs post across the border in Co Donegal.

The Parades Commission adjudication body is set to rule on whether the event planned for August 11 can proceed.

Mr Robinson challenged the commission to be sensitive to victims of terrorism.

"I think we recognise there are very difficult issues we have to deal in the relation to the past but it's hard to think of anything that is more insensitive than to have a parade which glorifies those who sought to bomb Castlederg and to have that parade in Castlederg," he said.

"We have countless victims of IRA terrorism, I can just image the hurt that they are feeling at this time. If we are dealing with parades on the basis of respect then some respect has to be shown to these people."

Mr McGuinness acknowledged the plan had become "an issue" and that sensitivity was needed.

"I think the decision made by republicans in Co Tyrone to effectively divert the parade away from the cenotaph and those areas that might be considered to be contentious is a sensible decision," he said.

"The big difficulty about all of this, this isn't something that just applies to republicans and how we deal with the past, it applies to nearly all of us within society and raises up for public debate the issues of how we deal with the past and whether or not people have a right to commemorate those people who have lost their lives.

"Of course right across society in the course of recent years we have seen people on all sides of the debate, albeit from a different perspective and different narrative, honour their dead. And that's what it comes down to I think. We all need to be very conscious that people do have the right to commemorate but it's very important that people commemorate in a way that's not offensive to others."

Republicans in Co Tyrone hold the annual Volunteers Day to commemorate colleagues who died in the conflict.

Rotating the venue and time to coincide with particular events and dates, Castlederg was chosen this year to mark the 40th anniversary of the deaths of the two IRA men.

Mr McGuinness said any decision to call off the parade was a matter for the local organisers.

"I have heard on the radio this morning they believe that the parade which is about to take place is a parade that is totally and absolutely confined to the nationalist and republican areas of the town, doesn't impinge on unionist communities or on the cenotaph and I think people should be prepared to accept that great efforts have been made to get a compromise," he said.

"I think also people should be prepared to accept that, I don't believe for example that the republicans in Tyrone in having this parade set out to make life difficult for people who are hurting as result of losses within the conflict."

But the DUP claim the route passes the scene of three IRA murders and close to the location of a fourth.

Mr Robinson said the decision to change the route away from the war memorial was not enough.

"I think there is very little change that has been made," he said.

"Let's recognise first of all that the principal purpose is to glorify two individuals who sought to bomb Castlederg but blew themselves up well away from Castlederg.

"If you are going to have a commemoration at all - and I think it's inappropriate to have it at all - but if you are going to have it, you would have it at the place where they blew themselves up, rather than the target town - that is totally insensitive."

Mr Robinson and his colleagues in the DUP have repeatedly stressed the right of people to hold peaceful parades in regard to disputes over contentious Orange Order marches.

In this instance, he stressed the issue was not about the right to parade, but what the parade commemorated.

"People are entitled to parade peacefully," he said.

"The issue isn't the fact they are parading - the issue is what they are parading for. This is a commemoration for an act of terrorism, an attempt to blow up Castlederg.

"I think when you take that into consideration it puts it in a very different context indeed."

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