Saoradh's plans to hold vigil for IRA man in play park slammed
Plans for a vigil on the anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker Raymond McCreesh in a Co Down children's play park named after him have been slammed as "absolutely reprehensible".
Dissident republican group Saoradh, believed to be the political wing of the New IRA, will take part in a black flag vigil planned for McCreesh Park in Newry on Saturday, May 18.
The New IRA was responsible for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry last month.
Ulster Unionist justice spokesman Doug Beattie MLA said the dissident group is clearly not getting the message that their presence on the streets is not welcome.
"Any idea that they can hold this sort of commemoration after what has happened in our country in recent weeks is absolutely reprehensible," he said.
"There are two issues with this. Number one, they should not be doing this in a play park. They are treating it as a monument to a convicted terrorist and no matter what you think of how he died, that is completely and utterly wrong.
"This is a place where children are expected to go to play. It is not a place for apologists for terrorism to treat as a shrine.
"Secondly, after all that has gone on with the murder of Lyra McKee, society in Newry and right across the country should be shunning the organisers of this event.
"Saoradh do not and should not represent anything to do with this country. Society has given them the message. We should all show them the back of our hand and we'd be a much better, happier society for it."
Protests were held at the Saoradh offices in Derry by friends of Ms McKee after the murder of the 29-year-old. Red handprints placed on the front of the offices have since become an online symbol of protest by supporters of the murdered journalist.
Since the murder, it emerged that the group, which has the support of the New IRA, has been issued with an eviction notice from its base at Junior McDaid House in the city.
Social media accounts for the Derry-based faction of the dissident republican-linked group were also suspended, though accounts of the Dublin, Armagh and Belfast Saoradh offices remain online. When McCreesh was arrested in 1977, a rifle he had in his possession was found to have been used in the IRA's 1976 Kingsmill attack, a sectarian massacre in which 10 Protestant workers were shot dead.
However, Saoradh An Iuir spokesperson Stephen Murney said the group was "immensely proud of the sac rifice Raymond McCreesh made for his country's freedom" and hailed him a hero.
Speaking ahead of the event, he said: "This commemorative event will give everyone the opportunity to remember Raymond in a dignified and fitting fashion.
"No better place to have this event than in the heart of the community who hold him in such high esteem. That's the reason we have once again decided to hold this event in Raymond McCreesh Park.
"Ray McCreesh was a revolutionary IRA volunteer and local hero. He made a massive sacrifice and suffered for us all in an unimaginable way. For that we are eternally grateful and it's a proud thing to have this park in Newry named in honour of his memory. The republican community in Newry have nothing but the utmost respect for Raymond, the sacrifice he made and the cause for which he died.
"We will assemble at Ray McCreesh park on Saturday, May 18, at 2pm.
"Join with us to remember Volunteer Raymond McCreesh, 1st battalion, South Armagh Brigade, Irish Republican Army."
McCreesh was one of 10 republican prisoners who died in the Maze in 1981 and the naming of the park sparked a long-running controversy.
Unionists demanded the name be changed, while republicans insisted it be retained with the SDLP caught in the middle. Last autumn, unionists and the SDLP backed plans to sell the park, stating that the current facility was "surplus to requirements" and the naming of the area would be a matter for the new owners.