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Watch: Michelle O'Neill pays homage to IRA dead in home village of Clonoe

Unionists line up to voice anger

By Michael McHugh

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.

The Irish national anthem was sung during the vigil.

Mrs 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 republican leader was addressing 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 the nearby Coalisland 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.

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

Mrs O'Neill added: "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.

"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," she said.

Michelle O’Neill speaks at the vigil at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe last night
Michelle O’Neill speaks at the vigil at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe last night
Michelle O’Neill speaks at the vigil at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe last night
Michelle O’Neill speaks at the vigil at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe last night

"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."

Mrs 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," she said.

"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 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," she added.

Mid Ulster DUP 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 Mrs 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."

TUV leader Jim Allister accused Mrs 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."

Mrs O'Neill is from Clonoe.

Her father Brendan Doris was an IRA prisoner.

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

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