Castlederg holds its breath and both sides appeal for calm as controversial IRA parade beckons
Victims campaigners and Sinn Fein remain at odds over tomorrow's republican parade through Castlederg, but both sides are appealing for calm.
Families of victims will be holding an outdoor religious service to remember the deaths of their loved ones and as an act of protest as the republican parade passes.
Gary Bogle, whose father William was murdered by the IRA, said: "I hope and believe that it will be a peaceful service. We will be making a dignified protest."
Arlene Foster of the DUP said: "The service of remembrance, led by local clergy, is very fitting and one which will unite the community rather than divide. It sits as the antithesis of what the parade organisers are doing."
She echoed appeals by victims for outsiders to stay away.
"Some people have discussed travelling to Castlederg to show their outrage at this PIRA parade. I understand their frustration and anger but I trust those people will respect the wishes of the victims. Rather than come to the town in numbers, I ask that supporters simply and quietly remember the families in prayer," she said.
Martin McGuinness predicted a calm, dignified atmosphere at the republican parade.
The Deputy First Minister said: "I don't have any other reason to believe that Sunday will not be peaceful; it's not a celebration, it's an act of remembrance".
The republican parade marks Tyrone Volunteers Day, an event held in Galbally last year.
On that occasion it included men in paramilitary uniforms and balaclavas, some carrying replica weapons. However Pat Doherty, the Sinn Fein MP for West Tyrone, said these features would not be repeated in Castlederg.
There is also an Apprentice Boys march in Castlederg today and there were fears that this and a planned Sinn Fein counter-demonstration could raise tensions in advance of tomorrow.
Mr McGuinness attended a republican meeting in Castlederg on Thursday.
As a result, the republican protest was cancelled.
"This is a genuine attempt to de-escalate tensions in the town and it would be my hope that it contributes to a peaceful weekend in Castlederg," Mr Doherty said.
For his part, Mr McGuinness called on people to "respect the right" of republicans in Tyrone in their act of remembrance on Sunday, but the Sinn Fein man said he was not planning to attend.
"I'm on holidays and I'm entitled to a break," he said.
Asked on Radio Foyle about unionist victims he replied: "I have tremendous sympathy for all victims of the conflict and there have been victims on all sides."
But he went on to accuse unionist politicians of manipulating the situation. Victims reject this claim.
The DUP's Tom Buchanan hit back last night.
"West Tyrone Sinn Fein is organising this parade to honour people who planned and carried out murder in the Castlederg area.
"At Sunday's parade, these terrorists will be remembered as heroes and will be glorified," he said.
"Such an act is grossly offensive to the families of the 29 people who the PIRA murdered in the Castlederg area. Indeed, it is even more offensive that the parade will pass the spot where two of those 29 were shot."
He added that Mr McGuinness had "failed to explain what is respectful about a PIRA parade passing the place where that organisation carried out murder".
But there seems to be little appetite for violence in Castlederg.
The feeling is that this town of 3,000 people has suffered enough over the years.
A Sinn Fein-backed Commemoration Committee is holding a parade through the Tyrone town of Castlederg tomorrow. It commemorates 59 IRA and three Sinn Fein members who died in during the Troubles. The IRA killed 29 Protestants in the town in the same period. Relatives want the parade halted but this has not happened and they will be holding a protest.