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Fury as Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill to speak at memorial for 8 IRA men killed in Loughgall

By Allan Preston

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has been slammed after it emerged she will be the guest speaker at an event to mark 30 years since eight IRA men were shot dead by the SAS at Loughgall.

The shootings on May 8, 1987 saw the IRA suffer its greatest loss of life in a single Troubles incident after the East Tyrone Brigade unit was shot by the SAS as they attacked a police station in the Co Armagh village.

An innocent civilian caught up in the crossfire was also killed by the SAS.

A Sinn Fein poster for the 'Loughgall Martyrs' event on Sunday announced Mrs O'Neill as the main speaker.

DUP MLA William Irwin accused Mrs O'Neill of failing to show respect to victims.

"Since her appointment by Gerry Adams, Michelle O'Neill has sought to speak only to a very narrow republican base," he said.

"Over the last few months there has been no evidence of any desire from Sinn Fein's new leader to demonstrate the respect she demands from others.

"There certainly is little respect demonstrated to the victims of IRA terrorism, choosing instead to describe a group of men who went out with the sole intention of murder and mayhem as 'martyrs'."

Kenny Donaldson, spokesman for Innocent Victims United, said that the Sinn Fein MLA should commit herself to righting the wrongs of the past.

The campaigner added: "Michelle O'Neill talks about reconciliation like those before her in Sinn Fein/IRA - but it's a very skewed understanding that she has. She has continued to engage in the terrorism idolatry of her predecessor Martin McGuinness.

"The truth is that PIRA's campaign was illegitimate and wholly wrong and entirely futile.

"PIRA were defeated and instead of engaging in further showings of terrorism idolatry, Mrs O'Neill should instead be committing her political party to a reconciliation process which is built upon the necessity for remorse, repentance and restitution of past wrongs."

Ulster Unionist MP Tom Elliott also condemned the event and accused Mrs O'Neill of attempting to make "martyrs" out of IRA terrorists.

"It's just typical that they (Sinn Fein) want to continue this exhortation of terrorists. These people that were killed at Loughgall were intent on murdering as many innocent people as possible," he said.

The Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP added: "Now we have someone who is potentially going to be deputy first minister, making them out to be some kind of martyrs when they were nothing only terrorists."

In February, Sinn Fein's Stormont leader faced similar criticism after she marked the deaths of four IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1992 in Clonoe. The republican leader was addressing a vigil in memory of the gang ambushed at St Patrick's Church minutes after they had attacked the nearby Coalisland RUC station with a heavy machine-gun.

In January, Mrs O'Neill faced similar criticism for a video statement in which she said she wanted to reach out to unionists before going on to reference both the Loughgall and the Clonoe ambush.

Sinn Fein did not respond to a request for comment.

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