Belfast Telegraph

Call off Castlederg march, says Theresa Villiers

Plea by Secretary of State dismissed by SF organiser

BY LIAM CLARKE

Theresa Villiers has appealed to the organisers of Sunday's republican parade in Castlederg to cancel it.

However, the Secretary of State has ruled out banning the event, telling victims that the legal condition for her to intervene did not exist.

But she criticisied the event, saying: "This parade is damaging to community relations and even at this late stage I would call upon the organisers to think again and call it off."

Her call was rejected outright by Barry McElduff, a local Sinn Fein MLA, who is on the parade's organising committee .

He accused Ms Villiers of trying to set up a "hierarchy of victims" and called on her to "respect the right of Irish people to remember with dignity their patriot dead".

However, there is also disquiet among some republicans and nationalists about the event.

A relative of one of the IRA members who is being commemorated yesterday confirmed that he had asked Sinn Fein to call off the parade.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he did not want to see community relations disrupted or old wounds opened. But he said Sinn Fein had told him it was not feasible to cancel.

So far Kevin Skelton, whose wife Philomena was killed in the 1998 Omagh bombing, is the only local nationalist to publicly oppose the parade, although the SDLP has done so as a party.

DUP minister Arlene Foster, who attended a meeting yesterday with Ms Villiers, said: "I have been inundated with Catholic people who are outraged that Sinn Fein is spearheading this offensive event in Castlederg where they will parade in triumph past the spots where Jacob Rankin and Jackie Hamilton (an RUC reservist and a UDR member) were shot."

Gary Bogle of Derg Valley Victims' Voice, the mainly Protestant victims group opposing the parade, said it had also heard from nationalists who were objecting to the parade.

Mr Bogle's father William and grandmother Annie both died as a result of IRA violence. He was one of 12 victims who met Ms Villiers yesterday. Afterwards, she spoke of her "profound sympathy for the victims". She added: "I heard harrowing stories from people who continue to grieve for loved ones and who have never received justice.

"There is no doubt that this deeply insensitive parade is causing great hurt and distress to many victims of terrorism in the west Tyrone area and the rest of Northern Ireland.

"This Government has always made clear that politically-motivated violence, by any side, was never justified and we condemn attempts to commemorate or legitimise terrorism."

Her comments pleased unionists, but enraged republicans.

Ms Foster said: "I am glad the Secretary of State has honoured her office and spoken out against this event, which would be railed against in any other part of the United Kingdom."

In contrast, Mr McElduff dismissed Ms Villiers' appeal.

He pledged: "The republican commemoration in Castlederg is organised in order to have a dignified and respectful commemoration of Tyrone's patriot dead. We will do so this Sunday.

"Ms Villiers has outlined her partisan objections and further endorsed the view that there is a hierarchy of victims when it comes to the conflict in Ireland.

"Each November, and indeed at other times of the year, those with a British identity commemorate the British Crown forces who have died. Many in Ireland suffered at the hands of these forces yet the commemorations are respected."

Both DUP and UUP sources said offers to bring in busloads of protesters from outside the area have been turned down.

BACKGROUND

Tyrone Volunteers Day is an annual commemoration of local IRA and Sinn Fein members who died during the Troubles. This year it includes a parade through Castlederg where the Provos killed 29 people. It focuses on Gerard McGlynn and Seamus Harvey, who died when a bomb they were transporting to Castlederg exploded prematurely. Castlederg's Sinn Fein cumann is named after them. Victims' groups plan a counter-demonstration and have called for the Secretary of State to ban the parade.

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