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Sinn Fein leader attends ceremony for IRA men shot dead by SAS

Sinn Fein's new leader in Northern Ireland has marked the deaths of four IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1992.

Michelle O'Neill said there should be no hierarchy of victims as she clutched a candle in memory of those who died in a churchyard in Clonoe, Co Tyrone.

Around 150 people attended a ceremony, including relatives of the dead, which organisers characterised as dignified.

The Irish national anthem was sung.

Ms O'Neill said: "These were four ordinary young men, who faced extraordinary challenges.

"And they responded in defence of their community and also of their country.

"They never went looking for war, but it came to them."

The would-be deputy first minister addressed a vigil in memory of Patrick Vincent, Sean O'Farrell, Peter Clancy and Barry O'Donnell.

The four were ambushed at St Patrick's Church minutes after they had attacked Coalisland Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station with a heavy machine gun.

Relatives of the dead held candles and a lament was played on a tin whistle.

The Irish tricolour and a plaque marked the spot where the deaths happened.

Ms O'Neill said: "It is a sad night for us as republicans and we come together 25 years later to remember their sacrifice, to remember that night, how we all felt."

She added: "I can certainly remember the pain and the hurt and the sorrow and the shock, most of all felt by the families but also by the wider republican community."

She said republicans and everyone else had every right to remember and honour their dead in a respectful and dignified manner.

"There can be no hierarchy of victims.

"Republicans recognise that.

"But it is the refusal of many within political unionism and the British state to do likewise that goes to the heart of many of the problems that we face in the political process."

The event was organised by Coalisland Clonoe Martyrs Sinn Fein Cumann.

Ms O'Neill said the past will always be a contentious place.

"There is no single narrative to any conflict anywhere in the world or at any time in history.

"Republicans understand that and accept it.

"We are committed to building bridges, to heal the hurt of the past and to build a better future for all of our children."

She said the British Government was still "blocking" the legacy mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement to deal with thousands of unresolved killings and injuries during the 30-year conflict.

"They don't want the world to know what they did in our country.

"They don't want the world to know about the death squads, about shoot-to-kill, about the torture and the full extent of collusion.

"They don't want the world to know what they did in places like Clonoe, but we will overcome that because republicans today are every bit as determined as Sean, as Peter, Paddy and Barry were."

Mid Ulster Democratic Unionist election candidate Keith Buchanan said: "Sinn Fein have talked repeatedly about respect over recent weeks, but once again we see a lack of respect for the victims of IRA terrorism."

Ulster Unionist candidate Sandra Overend said Ms O'Neill's presence at the event stood in "stark contrast to her words of reconciliation".

"It is only to be expected that republicans would wish to remember their dead, but Michelle O'Neill's presence at such an event is hardly sending a signal to the unionist community that she is some kind of new departure for Sinn Fein."

Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister accused Ms O'Neill of "glorifying the appalling bloodthirsty actions" of the IRA.

"I think it is appalling," he said.

"I think it is dancing on the graves of the innocent victims of the IRA yet again by a Sinn Fein leader and glorifying those terrorists who met their just deserts at the hands of the SAS in 1992."

Ms O'Neill is from Clonoe and her family is steeped in republicanism.

Her father Brendan Doris was an ex-IRA prisoner.

Her uncle, Paul Doris, is president of Noraid, a republican fundraising group.

However, unlike fellow politicians Martin McGuinness or Gerry Kelly, Ms O'Neill has had no direct IRA involvement.

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