Belfast Telegraph

Parade sparks call for a ban on replica guns

By Chris Kilpatrick

A unionist Assembly member has called for the Parades Commission to ensure that republicans do not carry replica guns at commemoration events — but defended unionists who carried historical firearms during the Ulster Covenant march.

Ross Hussey was speaking after a UUP delegation met face-to-face with the Parades Commission over a controversial hunger strike march, during which replica weapons were brandished.

Headed up by West Tyrone MLA Mr Hussey, the group expressed concern over the event in Dungiven, Co Londonderry which they claimed glorified republican terrorism.

The display of the weapons and other military paraphernalia at the National Hunger Strike commemoration back in August led to a backlash from angry unionists, who claimed it had demonstrated double standards on the part of the Parades Commission. Politicians and loyal order members claimed that while they had to go through a legal process to secure permission to parade, the authorities were turning a blind eye to controversial republican commemorations.

Mr Hussey, Limavady councillor Edwin Stevenson and colleagues Ronnie McKeegan and Aaron Callan met the Commission to discuss their concerns over the Dungiven event.

“The key issue is not the rights and wrongs of an event to commemorate the 1981 hunger strike, when men were allowed to starve themselves to death to become martyrs for a cause that is as far away today as it was then,” said Mr Hussey.

“Our concerns relate to the fact this parade was allowed to proceed with members of the group carrying replica firearms, firearms which in living memory and in recent days were used to murder people in Northern Ireland, and caused offence to unionists in the area.”

Mr Hussey admitted replica firearms were carried by unionists in some Covenant Centenary parades.

“Whilst this is true, those weapons were 100-years-old and part of our distant history. The same could not be said for AK47 rifles, armalite rifles and others which are still in use today and the weapons of choice of republican terrorists.

“If the Parades Commission can demand that a certain flag should not be carried, they can also ensure that weapons such as these, whether they are copies, imitations, decommissioned or whatever, are not put on display to glorify terrorism.

“We simply cannot and will not accept that this type of glorification of terrorism is acceptable in any society.”

Mr Hussey said last week’s meeting had been “positive”.

The Parades Commission issued a statement after the Dungiven parade to say it was aware of the concerns — both about the band and displays of inappropriate material — and would be examining complaints. The body declined to comment further yesterday.

Factfile

Last month prominent republican and former IRA chief Sean ‘Spike’ Murray called for an end to military paraphernalia at nationalist parades. Mr Murray — who served 12 years in prison for explosive offences — said the use of replica weapons and uniforms at republican events is at odds with the direction mainstream republicanism is heading.

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