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Anger at Catholic Church's silence on IRA tribute

By Claire O'Boyle

The Catholic Church should explain its stance on the commemoration of four IRA men killed in its grounds, community leaders said last night.

The demand follows last week's row over a memorial led by Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill for four men ambushed by the SAS in 1992, minutes after they had attacked a nearby RUC station with a heavy machine gun.

The candlelit vigil, attended by around 150 people, was held in the car park of St Patrick's Church in Clonoe, Co Tyrone, where the men - Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell, Peter Clancy and Barry O'Donnell - died.

"The Catholic Church should clarify its position on this," said the UUP's Tom Elliott.

"I'm not pointing a finger of blame here at them, but it might be helpful if they could take a more pragmatic view when it comes to things like this.

"We don't know if the church was even asked for permission, or if they were simply told it was happening. It would be interesting to know that much at least."

His party colleague and candidate for Mid-Ulster Sandra Overend said: "Did they endorse this event? And would they endorse it again in the future?"

Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Mrs O'Neill, who herself is from Clonoe, came under fire for her part in the memorial, with victims and political opponents saying it showed her "lack of respect" for those killed and bereaved by the IRA.

Ms Overend said: "The only positive thing to come out of this is that on the doorsteps I've met many nationalists who say they will not be voting for Sinn Fein as a result of Michelle O'Neill's decision to speak at the memorial last week.

"People are so disappointed that she would align herself with terrorists in this way and it's proven to me again that not everyone harks back to the past and the terrorist campaign."

Mr Elliott, MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone agreed, saying he found it "depressing" that Mrs O'Neill had chosen to speak at the event.

"I found it pretty depressing really," he said. "I don't think it's helpful in the current situation, and it's far from what I hoped when a new leader took over for Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland.

"I had hoped there would be a considerable change. It just goes to show that in fact Sinn Fein is still linked to the IRA inextricably in its history. It's a case of here we go again."

Speaking to the crowd last week on the 25th anniversary of the men's deaths, Mrs O'Neill said there should be "no hierarchy of victims" and that everyone had a right to remember and honour their dead.

St Patrick's Church was contacted, but did not supply a response.

The Catholic Communications Office also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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