Belfast Telegraph

Republican parade passes peacefully through Castlederg

Hundreds of people have protested at a controversial IRA parade in Castlederg, County Tyrone.

The Tyrone Volunteers Day demonstration in Castlederg - a town close to the Irish border and repeatedly targeted by bombers - commemorated republicans who died during the violent conflict, including two men killed by their own device.

Unionist victims' campaigners waved fading black and white photos of younger loved ones killed during the troubles, with memories still fresh some shouted angrily and two demonstrators temporarily broke through a security barrier amid emotional scenes in Co Tyrone.

The mainly middle-aged crowd was separated by a line of police officers from republicans, who numbered several hundred and included bandsmen, supporters and banner-carriers.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers had urged organisers to call off the march, saying it was causing great hurt to victims of terrorism.

One loyalist victims' campaigner, David Kerrigan, said: "There is no use talking to them, they have set relations back in this town 20 years."

The parade followed Friday night's serious loyalist violence in Belfast city centre when 56 Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officers were hurt by flying masonry.

The summer has seen heightened tensions around parading, flags and community relations which will be addressed by renewed political talks this autumn.

Castlederg, close to the Irish border in the region's west, was one of the most bombed towns during the conflict and the Sinn Fein-organised demonstration came on the 40th anniversary of the death of two IRA men killed by their own explosives in the town they allegedly intended to target.

Unionists said the march was deeply insensitive but Sinn Fein argued that the town centre should be a shared space for nationalists and unionists and Stormont deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the intention was not to glorify terrorism.

Today Gerry Kelly, Sinn Fein Stormont Assemblyman for North Belfast and former top IRA member, said: "As a republican we don't expect unionists to accept our view of history and neither should they expect me to accept their view of history."

He added while unionists remembered the world war dead and victims of the 30-year conflict, republicans also wanted to commemorate those who died in the conflict, an equivalence many dispute.

Mr Kelly said: "We believe it should be your right to do it with dignity, it is not about coat trailing, it is not about anything else, there are other people making a controversy out of it, we never have."

Yards away separated by marshalls and police, Democratic Unionist East Londonderry MLA Gregory Campbell said he was standing with protesters in solidarity with the innocent victims of Castlederg.

"It is an appalling indictment, an embarrassment and a shame on democracy that Sinn Fein should be organising an event that glories in terror."

In Belfast too victims protested, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams addressed a rally in west Belfast supporting the families of 11 people killed by the British army in 1971 and renewed his call for an independent truth and reconciliation commission.

In Castlederg restaurants closed early, shutters were pulled down and shopkeepers said the town was quiet ahead of an event which has been the subject of intense public debate.

Mr Kerrigan clutched a photograph of his sister Heather, a corporal in the Ulster Defence Regiment of the Army blown up while on foot patrol in July 1984 by the IRA just outside Castlederg.

Her brother said nobody had been convicted of her murder, an issue replicated across Northern Ireland with independent police probing more than 3,000 unsolved cases.

"This is a protest against the IRA glorification through this town and I am here to give my support to the victims," he added.

A short distance away, at a newly built republican memorial in Castlederg, the names of dead republicans were read out to the marchers.

They included those of the two IRA men, who died when the bomb they were transporting went off prematurely in 1973.

 Alex Elliott, a former policeman, stood beside Mr Kerrigan and gestured across the police lines as republicans paraded past.

"These are the families and friends of the victims, those are the friends of perpetrators of violence, that is the difference," he said.

Parades Commission chairman Peter Osborne said demonstrations in Belfast and Londonderry stood in marked contrast to each other, with 5,000 members of the Apprentice Boys loyal order marching in Derry yesterday without rancour.

He said violence was never inevitable and responsibility lay with the perpetrators, echoing police chief constable Matt Baggott.

"People have choices. In years to come whether our grandchildren demonstrate respect for each other's identity and traditions will depend on their relationship with each other; and that will depend on what we, in this generation, do now," he said.

"If this generation, as leaders and parents, doesn't start showing more respect, tolerance and sensitivity toward others from a different tradition why should we expect our children to teach that to their children?"

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