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Plans for hunger strikers Hughes and McElwee memorial branded 'an insult to IRA victims'

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Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee

Francis Hughes

Francis Hughes

Thomas McElwee

Plans for a memorial to two hunger strikers have been described as a "slap in the face" for victims of IRA terrorism.

The proposed memorial cross in Bellaghy would commemorate Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee.

The application for the memorial, intended to be in place for the 40th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike by republican prisoners in Long Kesh, has been submitted to planning authorities.

It will come before Mid Ulster District Council's planning committee.

Francis Hughes, who was the second man to die after Bobby Sands, and his cousin Thomas McElwee, the ninth, were cousins from Bellaghy.

In Moneymore, which lies just over 10 miles from where the proposed memorial could be erected, Francis Hughes murdered two RUC men in a shootout in 1977, making him the RUC's most wanted man in Northern Ireland at the time.

Thomas McElwee was serving a prison sentence for his role in a bombing blitz of Ballymena when he joined the hunger strike.

Mid-Ulster UUP councillor Trevor Wilson said he was fiercely opposed to any form of memorial for the pair.

He said any tribute would be an "affront to all decent people".

He said: "Plans to erect a memorial to these two convicted terrorists will be a slap in the face of every innocent victim of IRA violence and an insult to their memory.

"Francis Hughes was a notorious killer who, among the evil acts he carried out, murdered two police officers in Moneymore a short distance from where this memorial is likely to be, which is the last thing people in Moneymore will want.

"I can't imagine any decent person in today's society thinking this is a good idea and you only have to look at the offence caused by naming a children's play park after another hunger striker - Raymond McCreesh - to see how much hurt this memorial will cause."

Mr Wilson said any attempt to glorify terrorism and violence would send out "entirely the wrong message to impressionable young people who could be led right into the clutches of dissident paramilitaries".

"This memorial is wrong on so many levels and I like so many others will be vehemently opposed to it," he added.

The DUP group on Mid-Ulster council, along with MLA Keith Buchanan, also voiced objection to the planned memorial.

The group described it as a retrograde step.

In a joint statement, they said: "This memorial or any memorial to terrorists is an insult to the innocent victims and their families who were terrorised. Glorification of terrorism has always been wrong, whether in past decades or the present day.

"The continued glorification of those who engage in violence only serves to drag Northern Ireland backwards.

"These people who engage in glorification really need to grasp reality and not be disconnected from those in the community."

A group calling itself the Bellaghy Republican Memorial Group launched a petition four weeks before the application was submitted.

They said that in the approach to the 40th anniversary of the hunger strike, it was "only right" to erected a memorial to Hughes and McElwee, and they had a "duty to remember" the "patriot dead."

Belfast Telegraph