Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Parading Republicans must also respect their neighbours

A Republican parade remembering the hunger strikers passes through Belfast in 2010.
A Republican parade remembering the hunger strikers passes through Belfast in 2010.
Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew
Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew

During this marching season, as with previous ones, republicans make much of the need for the Orange Order to respect the sensitivities of nationalist residents along the routes of contentious parades.

They wonder, for example, why demonstrations have to pass places like the Ardoyne shops in north Belfast when alternative routes could be available.

But their argument loses much of its validity when they organise demonstrations which cause much distress to the victims of the IRA's terror campaign. The planned celebrations in Derrylin next month to mark the anniversary of the deaths of 10 republican hunger strikers is a case in point.

While the Fermanagh village has a largely nationalist population, at least five members of the security forces were killed in the area and those family circles will view the parade – expected to attract around 10,000 people – with justifiable distaste.

In one terrorist attack in the area in 1972 an IRA gang gunned down the wife of an off-duty UDR man at her home, then stepped over her dying body and killed her husband.

This was a grotesque double killing even by the standards of the Troubles. As the couple's niece tells this newspaper today, the murders may have happened 42 years ago, but such is the continuing pain that it may as well have been 42 days ago. The hunger strike demonstration will only cause the family circle increased anguish.

Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew argues that the commemoration of the hunger strikers is an important date in the republican calendar, but surely that should not be at the expense of the feelings of non-nationalist neighbours. Her claim that it will also be an economic boost to the area is risible in the wider context. The price of offence to people who lost loved ones cannot be calculated.

Tolerance and respect when it comes to demonstrations and parades is a two-edged sword. It cannot be demanded solely by one section of this divided community, but must be the template by which all such events are judged, no matter what the cause being celebrated.

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