Hunger strike rally in Derrylin - Palestinian official says peace process could be model for Gaza
A Palestinian official has told thousands of republicans at a controversial hunger strike commemoration that Northern Ireland's peace process could provide a model for how to end the conflict in Gaza.
Unionists and victims' groups had criticised the event as offensive to those who had suffered at the hands of the IRA and a glorification of terrorism.
Six members of the security forces were killed in the Fermanagh border village of Derrylin by the IRA during the Troubles.
Yesterday, 27 republican bands and their supporters held placards and banners of the hunger strikers as they marched through the small village where they were joined by Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Ahmad Abdelrazek, the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland, paid tribute to the 10 republicans who died during the 1981 hunger strikes in the Maze Prison while demanding to be treated as political prisoners, rather than criminals. He also met with a number of families of hunger strikers before the march and said he was proud to be a part of the commemoration.
"We came here to express our solidarity with the families of the 10 who died from the hunger strike and to inform people about what is going on in Gaza," he said.
"I think we have to realise that the hunger strike was a peaceful way of protesting and we always accuse the other of terrorism but at the end we have to understand the only way to get peace is to negotiate with the other party.
"We have to learn that after many years of struggle in Northern Ireland they have the Good Friday Agreement. So it's a good lesson for us and it's a possibility of how we could achieve a peaceful solution to end occupation in Palestine.
"This is a kind of communication between people that has worked all over the world."
Despite earlier tensions, there were no protests at the parade. However, it attracted criticism from South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) victims' group, who said the event had re-traumatised victims' families.
SEFF spokesman Kenny Donaldson said: "We represent families whose loves ones were murdered in the Derrylin area and are buried within the grounds of Derrylin Church of Ireland. Grief stricken and re-traumatised families decided today that the IRA, its political voice, and others involved in the march would not further erode their dignity.
"The glorification of terrorism is a toxic disease which is endemic within our society."
Fermanagh and South Tyrone's Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew, who gave the keynote speech, said republicans acknowledged the ongoing pain of those "saddened, offended or angered" by the event, adding "that was never our intention".
But she accused First Minister Peter Robinson – who described the march as obnoxious and intimidating – and other unionist leaders of seeking to "sectarianise" it.
"As unionism has created an axis to oppose the Good Friday Agreement, those who support it, including the governments, need to build a pro-Agreement axis," she said.
Gerry Adams described the event as a celebration.
"I accept entirely the right of anybody to give their opinions and in particular those families who have been bereaved or had loved ones hurt by the IRA. That's fair enough, and we have to be mindful and compassionate about all of that," he said.
"What I don't accept are the criticisms by the unionist politicians – not for a second.
"I think it was staged and we need, in this new era, to be mindful that everybody has the right to honour their dead."
Palestinian flags were waved by many participants during the rally which Ms Gildernew said sent a strong message that "Irish people reject the aggression of Israel".