Belfast Telegraph

Why was 'celebration of IRA terror' allowed to go ahead? TUV's Allister asks police chief

By Suzanne Breen

TUV leader Jim Allister is calling on the Chief Constable to explain why the PSNI didn't stop republicans dressed up as masked IRA members wielding replica weapons in Londonderry.

Mr Allister has written to George Hamilton telling him it is "inexcusable" that police "surrendered control of the streets for this celebration of terror".

The Belfast Telegraph yesterday revealed that half a dozen young republicans appeared in the Bogside wearing combat gear, balaclavas and berets on Saturday.

They carried a range of imitation weapons including Armalite and Kalashnikov assault rifles, a Dragunov sniper rifle, and a stick grenade.

They adopted firing positions on the streets as part of a history tour by the Spirit of Freedom Republican Flute Band, which supports Sinn Fein.

A party spokesman said the PSNI had been warned in advance that the tour would include "historical re-enactments with period costume and ... imitation firearms".

The organisers had also stated on social media that "some recent modern IRA operations in the area" would be re-enacted.

In his letter to the Chief Constable, North Antrim MLA Mr Allister wrote: "I would be obliged if you could tell me exactly what the PSNI were told would take place at this event and why your officers did not seek to prevent a display which will doubtless have re-traumatised victims in Londonderry and beyond. Glorification of terrorism is a criminal offence. Patently, that was what was intended and what happened.

"Yet the PSNI surrendered control of the streets for this celebration of terror."

Mr Allister added: "To know that an event of this nature was taking place and permit it to go ahead would be utterly outrageous and a gross insult to the many brave officers who paid with their lives during the IRA's campaign of terror."

Alliance justice spokesman Trevor Lunn also expressed concern at the event.

"Masked men in paramilitary uniforms have no place in modern society, whether a re-enactment or otherwise," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Paramilitary displays are sinister and must be left in the past where they belong.

"The appearance of firearms, even imitation ones, is always concerning.

"If we want to build a united community which is welcoming for everyone, this type of activity should be seen for the unacceptable spectacle it is."

DUP Foyle MLA Gary Middleton said the event damaged Derry's reputation and would distress IRA victims.

"It is truly disgraceful that republicans felt that this behaviour was justified," he said.

"Terrorism is terrorism.

"It was evil and destructive and should not be glorified in any shape or form.

"Young people were involved during this display at the weekend and it is reprehensible that, when we are trying to move people away from violence towards a more prosperous, peaceful Northern Ireland, some thought this was appropriate."

East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said he was alarmed when he saw photographs of what had occurred.

"Whether this is a re-enactment or not, this is certainly not appropriate nor welcome in any form within our society," he said.

A Sinn Fein spokesman said the band's tour "covered the history of the area from St Columba, the Siege of Derry right up to and including the period from the 1920s to the recent conflict and peace process".

He added: "The organisers informed the police in advance that the tour would include historical re-enactments with period costum e and that imitation firearms, which cannot be fired, would be on display."

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