Belfast Telegraph

Outrage as INLA takes over streets in show of strength

By Joanne Fleming

The intimidating spectacle of paramilitaries freely parading through the streets of a town in Northern Ireland has been widely condemned.

As well as unionists, the masked march by republican paramilitaries in Londonderry has been lambasted by nationalists, tourism leaders and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Mr McGuinness - a former IRA commander in Derry - tweeted that he had been "honoured to attend Peggy O'Hara's funeral Mass". But he added: "Masked men parading afterwards did little to respect the memory of such a good woman."

Peggy O'Hara was the mother of Irish National Liberation Army hunger striker Patsy O'Hara. He died in 1981 after 61 days while serving an eight-year sentence for possession of a hand grenade.

Saturday's menacing display came just days after an outcry over shots fired over Mrs O'Hara's coffin by masked men, and a day after a paramilitary-style funeral for a murdered UDA leader in Belfast.

In Derry on Saturday, 45 men and women clad in black paramilitary uniforms followed Mrs O'Hara's horse-drawn hearse to St Columba's Church in the Long Tower for a requiem Mass before burial at the City Cemetery, just over a mile away.

The masked paramilitaries accompanied Mrs O'Hara's remains from her Templegrove home, off the Buncrana Road.

To the sound of a piper, the procession stamped through the Bishop area and Brandywell streets, taking several minutes to pass a single spot. The cortege included another hundred people in white shirts and black ties, and the whole march stopped briefly at one point as those on parade dropped to one knee in Bishop Street where Mrs O'Hara had once lived near to an INLA memorial.

Police could be seen monitoring parts of the procession with video recording equipment on top of armoured Land Rovers. However, officers did not intervene.

At the City Cemetery graveside, young women could be seen wearing berets, sunglasses, masks and ties with the starry plough emblem of the republican socialist movement. Despite their disguises, some were clearly too young to remember the Troubles.

An Irish tricolour and starry plough flag were removed from the coffin before being presented to the O'Hara family. And three white doves were released at the graveside, representing O'Hara, her husband Jim and son Patsy.

Speaking at the graveside, Martin McMonagle of the Irish Republican Socialist Party thanked "the INLA for the magnificent show today in bringing Peggy to her resting place".

But Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said the scenes "undo many of the positive strides being taken in Northern Ireland".

"The majority of people want Northern Ireland to move forward rather than be plagued by those committed to violence," said Mr Bell, whose department includes responsibility for tourism.

"Northern Ireland has so much to offer tourists and I want positive images beamed around the world rather than scenes of paramilitary parades."

Colin Neill of Hospitality Ulster said: "We do not comment on politics in any shape or form but anything that can upset the situation with the peace process, that sends a sign that there is unrest or danger possibly, has a damaging impact on our industry."

Later, police carried out searches and seized a number of items in relation to the funeral and wake. But DUP MP Gregory Campbell claimed the PSNI had treated the cortege with "kid gloves".

He added that the paramilitary display sent out the wrong images of Londonderry, the first UK City of Culture, and Northern Ireland around he world. "I am very angry. When we are looking to bring inward investment into Northern Ireland and trying to build a tourism project, these are the images. It's totally negative as well as lawbreaking," he said.

The display came just a day after a large loyalist paramilitary funeral for murdered UDA chief Colin 'Bap' Lindsay.

He died after he was attacked with a samurai sword at a house in the Belvoir Estate in south Belfast on July 8.

SDLP MLA for South Belfast, Claire Hanna, tweeted: "Militarised UDA funeral yesterday, INLA today.

"Throwbacks playing dress up have no place at all in normal society. Leave the stage, losers".

Belfast Telegraph

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