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Plans for IRA hunger strikers memorial 'abhorrent', says victims' group

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Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee

Francis Hughes

Francis Hughes

Thomas McElwee

A victims' group has described plans to erect a memorial to two IRA hunger strikers as "absolutely abhorrent".

The move to commemorate Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee in Bellaghy has caused widespread anger.

An application to erect a memorial cross in time for the 40th anniversary of the 1981 hunger strike by republican prisoners in Long Kesh has been submitted and will be brought to Mid-Ulster District Council for a decision.

Francis Hughes, who was the second man to die in the 1981 hunger strike, had been imprisoned for the murder of two police officers, John McCracken and Kenneth Sheehan, in a shoot-out in Moneymore.

Thomas McElwee, who was convicted for his role in a bombing blitz in Ballymena in which Yvonne Dunlop died, was the ninth man to die after 62 days without food.

Unionist politicians in Mid-Ulster have voiced their disgust at the plans.

Yesterday victims' group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) also spoke out in opposition.

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Francis Hughes

Francis Hughes

Francis Hughes

Director of services Kenny Donaldson said there is revulsion among victims of republican terrorism at the proposed memorial.

He said: "It is absolutely abhorrent for such an application to be even submitted against the backdrop of the carnage these men reaped across the area in which they were based.

"We call upon the application proposers to withdraw the planning request immediately. Failing this happening, then all eyes move to Mid-Ulster Council and the actions of its councillors - in such a circumstance this then becomes the South Londonderry version of the McCreesh play park issue in Newry."

Ian Irwin, a support worker for SEFF in the Mid-Ulster area, called for councillors to reject the application.

"Francis Hughes and Thomas McElwee were convicted murderers, Mid-Ulster Council must stand by the innocents of violence," he said.

"If the planning application does go forward then we call upon the SDLP leadership to move decisively in putting out a directive to its representatives that they should not support the application."

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 erect a memorial to Hughes and McElwee, and they had a "duty to remember" the "patriot dead."

Belfast Telegraph