Tour of the North: Time media asked a few questions of parade protest group luminary
Tomorrow night is the annual Tour of the North parade. I joined the Orange Order in 1975 and so it will be my 41st Tour of the North. Of course, the Orange brethren and the bandsmen and spectators will not be the only people out tomorrow night. The Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group will be out protesting against the parade.
One of the most prominent "concerned residents" is Frank Dempsey, known as Frank 'Dipper' Dempsey, who is the chairman of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group. He is clearly a man with some influence in the area and is also a regular spokesman on the subject of loyal order parades, which he condemns as "sectarian".
The parades receive a lot of media scrutiny, but unfortunately the same has not been true of the protesters. Unfortunately, investigative journalists have neglected 'Dipper' and have not given him the attention he clearly deserves. So, who is Frank Dempsey?
One of the most helpful insights came in August 2012 in the Andersonstown News. I don't normally read it, but on that occasion I did and it provided a wealth of useful information.
Page 20 was headed 'D Company remembers its dead' and reported a recent "IRA reunion" in a Belfast bar.
According to the report, "over 600 members of one of the most renowned units of the IRA gathered for a one-off commemoration". It was "organised by the Falls Cultural Society and the D Company Ex-Volunteers and Prisoners Association" to honour 14 members of the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein who were killed during the Troubles.
"A unique portrait of each Roll of Honour member was presented to their families by veteran Belfast republican Billy McKee, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA" and the first officer commanding the Provos in Belfast.
According to the author Ed Moloney, McKee authorised sectarian attacks on Protestants and renewed attacks on the Official IRA.
In 1977, a faction led by Gerry Adams ousted McKee and he later joined Republican Sinn Fein. Eventually, the IRA issued a half-hearted apology for Bloody Friday in 1972, when 22 IRA bombs murdered nine people and injured 130 others.
In an interview in May 2011, McKee was asked about Bloody Friday and said: "I'm not going to condemn it, or the men that carried it out. No way." He also defended the horrific murder of Jean McConville by the Provisional IRA.
But back to Frank Dempsey. One of the pictures in the Andersonstown News report showed the presentation of a gold medal to Billy McKee at this "IRA D Company reunion" and the person who was given the honour of presenting the IRA medal was named as "Frank Dempsey".
A careful look at the photograph confirmed that it was, indeed, none other than Frank 'Dipper' Dempsey, all of which helps to shed some light on the chairman of the Carrick Hill Concerned Residents Group.
Frank Dempsey has been interviewed many times about parades and is obviously very accessible to the media. So why is it that he has never been asked some pertinent questions about "D Company" and the Provisional IRA?
So, as regards pertinent questions for Frank Dempsey, here are two suggestions:
1: Frank Dempsey is very fond of the word "respect" and demands "respect" for nationalists. So, did the IRA - which he clearly supports - show much respect for the people of Belfast when they carried out their sectarian murder campaign and slaughtered men, women and children?
2: Does Frank Dempsey agree with Billy McKee about the horror of Bloody Friday and the murder of Jean McConville?
Is it too much to hope that some journalist will pose these questions? Is it too much to ask that the media scrutinise Frank Dempsey in the same way they scrutinise the parade?
The answers would make interesting reading.
- Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee.