DUP attack Michelle O'Neill's speech at memorial for IRA men killed by SAS at Loughgall - an 'insult to victims'
Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has been accused of disrespecting IRA victims after she spoke at an event to commemorate the deaths of eight of the terror group's members killed in Loughgall, Co Armagh, in 1987.
The party's leader in Northern Ireland insisted there was no contradiction in commemorating the IRA dead while also reaching out to unionists. She said republicans "are proud of our freedom struggle".
But last night, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the decision by Sinn Fein's Stormont chief to defend the IRA was "appalling".
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the Lagan Valley MP said: "While recognising that people have the right to commemorate the dead and their families, I find her remarks an insult to the innocent victims of IRA violence."
"Her defence of the IRA violence is appalling, and demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the innocent victims of the IRA.
"The families of the thousands of children, women and men murdered in cold blood by the IRA will be deeply hurt by these comments, coming from the person who aspires to be the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland."
Ms O'Neill took part in a republican parade on Sunday to mark 30 years since the SAS ambush of the IRA men.
Large crowds gathered at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Altmore and paraded to the IRA memorial in the village of Cappagh.
The IRA tried to blow up Loughgall police station in Co Armagh in May 1987. Members of the east Tyrone Brigade loaded a 200lb bomb into a stolen digger which smashed through the gates of the station.
The SAS was lying in wait and opened fire, killing all eight members of the IRA unit.
An innocent civilian, Anthony Hughes, was also shot dead.
Family members of the dead men carried their photographs to the memorial.
Speaking to the crowd, Ms O'Neill said she had been criticised by unionists and the media for commemorating the IRA.
However she added: "Let me be clear.
"I am an Irish republican. Make no mistake about it - I will always remember and commemorate our patriot dead - and each of our fallen comrades who gave their lives for Irish freedom."
She added: "I see no contradiction whatsoever in commemorating our republican dead while reaching out to our unionist neighbours to build the future - Orange and Green together on the basis of full equality and mutual respect."
Ms O'Neill said everyone has a legitimate right to remember their dead without being demonised.
"We are proud of our freedom struggle.
"We are especially proud of our republican patriot dead and each of our fallen comrades with whom we are gathered to remember, honour and whose lives we celebrate here today," she added.
Previously, DUP leader Arlene Foster had said she was disappointed by Ms O'Neill's decision to attend the event.
Mrs Foster met Irish language students in Northern Ireland in a bid to learn more about the language as part of efforts to restore devolved powersharing.
She said: "It is disappointing that when I am trying to make this a shared place for everybody in Northern Ireland that other leaders are doing things that frankly are wrong and backward-looking."