Belfast Telegraph

Veterans' rally axed over risk of violence on street

Critics branded protest an insult to Bloody Sunday dead

By Leona O'Neill

The organisers of a veterans’ march that was scheduled to be held in Londonderry next month have cancelled the event over fears of street violence after republicans called for a mass mobilisation against the parade.

Veterans for Justice UK was set to bring 100 former soldiers to march around the city on March 4 in protest against ongoing “vindictive” criminal investigations into Troubles killings involving the Army, including Bloody Sunday in 1972.

Republican group Saoradh called for people to take to the streets to “demonstrate local and national opposition to this charade that seeks to justify the killing of Irish citizens”.

The IRSP, meanwhile, branded the march an “act of evil sectarianism” that it would be opposing, while hardline republican group Eirigi described it as “nothing less than a calculated insult to the dead of Bloody Sunday and their families”.

Some groups had been mobilising supporters to mount counter-protests, and anger was growing on the ground, leading to serious fears of violence.

The march was organised by 51-year-old Anto Wickham, a former Royal Irish Ranger from Craigavon.

Speaking from Afghanistan where he now works in private security, Mr Wickham said the demonstration was being cancelled because the group “didn’t want to be held responsible for any police officers being injured in the trouble that was being planned”.

“We are postponing the parade to avoid others exploiting the situation to create community tensions or to engage in violence,” he added.

“The veterans are peaceful and law-abiding and their presence in the city threatens no one.

“We regret there are still some in the community who cannot tolerate another point of view, who cannot accommodate others and who are opposed to free speech and freedom of assembly. These are all things that the veterans fought to uphold and maintain.

“Republicans talk much about respect, but it is clear that some at least cannot show any respect for veterans and are intolerant of anything or anyone who is different from them.

“This is bigotry of the highest order, and they diminish their own cause with their intolerant and threatening behaviour. Veterans will continue to uphold the law and behave in a dignified and peaceful manner. We want justice for veterans and we want to be treated with equality under the law. Clearly, some republicans can’t cope with either.”

But march opponents expressed relief the event had been called off.

Kate Nash (67), whose brother William was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, had been planning to mount a counter-protest in the city’s Diamond area for the duration of the march. She also lodged a complaint with the Parades Commission. Mrs Nash said was relieved the “insulting” march had been called off because the potential for violence was extremely high.

“I am delighted that the march has been cancelled,” she added. “I’ve had a knot in my stomach ever since this march was announced.

“I was extremely worried about rioting and people getting hurt, and I knew that this march would have had that potential. I was listening to the feelings of those on the ground.

“There was so much anger and rage. They thought it so unfair for them to march through the city. Everyone here felt like it was like a slap in the face to victims.

“I am so very, very relieved that it has been called off because there was a serious potential for trouble in this city.

“The last thing I would have wanted was for anyone to be hurt or for any property to be wrecked because of this.

“People were so angry that it would have certainly went that way.”

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