Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee murder: Council must revoke honour for dissident, demands DUP MLA

Saoradh’s Newry chairperson Anthony Coyle (centre)
Saoradh’s Newry chairperson Anthony Coyle (centre)
Saoradh’s Newry chairperson Anthony Coyle speaking at the civic awards ceremony last Tuesday
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A local council has been heavily criticised for "honouring" the chair of its local Saoradh branch.

The group's Newry chairperson Anthony Coyle was officially recognised as a community ambassador by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council at its annual civic awards ceremony last Tuesday.

The accolade was bestowed on the republican activist by SDLP councillor Mark Murnin in Newry Town Hall, where the recipient was also hailed as "a true community leader" by the council's chief executive.

The council confirmed that the former chair of the Derrybeg Community Association was honoured in recognition of his dedication to improving the lives of others over four decades.

Mr Coyle was praised on the night for working "tirelessly" within his community to "help improve the quality of life for local residents".

"A true community leader, Anthony is a very worthy recipient of this award," the audience was told.

Mr Coyle was one of a number of people honoured at the event.

However, DUP MLA William Irwin said the council has serious questions to answer in light of Lyra McKee's murder.

Saoradh caused anger after trying to blame her death on police conducting searches in Creggan on Thursday night.

Mr Irwin said: "The council should be urgently reconsidering its decision to give an award to someone who represents a group which acts as an apologist for a terrorist organisation.

"Does the council's own policy permit it to honour a representative of a group which supports terrorism?

"How can anyone declare themselves a community leader while at the same time chairing a group which refuses to condemn those who are attacking our community?"

Saoradh has denied being a mouthpiece for the New IRA, which has been blamed for the killing.

The Newry and Armagh MLA said the council should withdraw the award and "end any association" it has with Mr Coyle.

"The events of the past few days in Londonderry, which have culminated in the shocking murder of journalist Lyra McKee, have to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. The fact the organisation which Mr Coyle represents has failed to condemn the murder is sickening in the extreme," he said.

Around 150 Saoradh members marched on the streets of Dublin on Saturday, less than 48 hours after Ms McKee's murder.

Men and women dressed in military fatigues and berets covered their faces as they paraded past the General Post Office, scene of heavy fighting during the 1916 Easter Rising.

Earlier the group boasted about "defying crown force threats" during its Easter commemoration in Newry, which was led by Mr Coyle.

The colour party at the republican plot in St Mary's Cemetery was carefully monitored by police, who the group accused of "scaremongering" by deeming the parade illegal just two days earlier.

Bringing the wreath laying ceremony to a close, Mr Coyle thanked supporters who had gathered.

"Your attendance has ensured that we have made a dignified and fitting tribute to our IRA patriot dead despite crown force provocation," he added.

Saoradh changed the time of the service to 12.30pm at the last minute to "maximise attendance". It added on social : "No amount of threats will deter revolutionary Republicans from remembering our fallen. We defy you, do your worst!!!"

Mr Irwin said Mr Coyle's involvement in the illegal parade should be "of immediate concern" to the both the council the PSNI.

"I expect a full and robust response to this matter," he added.

"There cannot be a rule for one and a rule for the other, the law must be applied equally. I will be watching this matter with interest, as will the law-abiding public." The PSNI said officers were present during the event as part of an evidence gathering operation.

It said an investigation will be carried out to determine if any offences were committed in Newry.

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