Sinn Fein's O'Neill slammed for honouring IRA man after joining in rally for truth
A victims' campaigner has accused Sinn Fein of "breathtaking arrogance" for attending a commemoration for an IRA man - just after taking part in the Time for Truth rally in Belfast.
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said members of his group would have been insulting the memory of their loved ones had they taken part in the rally.
DUP leader Arlene Foster, UUP MLA Doug Beattie and TUV leader Jim Allister have slammed Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill for speaking at a commemoration for IRA member Peadar McElvenna in Keady after attending the Belfast march.
However, Sinn Fein yesterday defended Ms O'Neill's presence at the event.
"Republicans have the same right as any other section of the community to remember our loved ones," a spokesperson said.
"Our pain is no less and no more than anyone else's and the loss of the republican community and the memory of our dead should not be disrespected."
Mr Donaldson said: "The breathtaking arrogance of Sinn Fein knows no bounds. On Sunday morning/early afternoon they claimed their focus was on supporting those who have been denied justice and truth.
"They use such terms as equality and building reconciliation.
"Then, just a few hours later, they are front and centre of an event which eulogised someone who, while performing terrorist actions, was himself killed."
Mr Donaldson said there had been attempts to portray IRA victims as unreasonable or an obstacle to peace because they wouldn't take part in the Time for Truth march.
He said that walking alongside some people who still justified IRA activities would "insult the memory" of victims.
"Innocent Victims United has always insisted that there was no justification for the use of criminal violence in the furtherance of or defence of a political objective. We do not cherry-pick violence, we are not hypocrites," he said.
Mr Donaldson claimed some Church, academic and political figures had "abandoned values around standing up for what is right".
He continued: "We will not bow to such moral cowardice.
"Northern Ireland cannot and will not ever move meaningfully forward unless and until there is account given of 'the past' and recognition that, irrespective of grievances held, whether real or perceived, that this never legitimised one neighbour murdering another."
Kyle Black, whose prison officer father David was shot dead by the New IRA in 2012, tweeted: "Sinn Fein could assist many families who were victims of IRA terrorism. Instead, they continue to condone and glorify those responsible. Hypocrites. All innocent victims deserve truth and justice."
Kate Nash, whose brother Willie was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, said: "Sinn Fein do not come to the Bloody Sunday march and that's for victims.
"They are using these victims (at the Time for Truth rally) to further their own agenda.
"However, many of the good people attending this march would not know that. They are marching to support each other."
TUV leader Jim Allister said Sinn Fein had once again shown its true colours, and he rounded on the DUP and UUP for engaging in a talks process to return the party to government at Stormont. "On Sunday, true to form, Sinn Fein glorified another IRA terrorist, proclaiming the fatuous mantra of 'commitment to delivering a new, united and inclusive Ireland'.
"Yet some foolish unionists believe Sinn Fein's purpose in the Stormont talks is to help make Northern Ireland work.
"It's long past the point when unionists need to waken up to what the end point of the process is."
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said: "Everybody deserves truth and justice regardless of whether they are the victims of state or terrorist violence.
"But the victims of IRA violence can't be expected to walk in a march which includes some who eulogise those who ended their loved ones' lives."
He said politics must be taken out of justice issues.
Ms O'Neill attended the commemoration for Peadar McElvanna who was killed on "IRA active service" in Lagan, just outside Keady in June 1979.
The 24-year-old was shot during a gun battle between the IRA and the British Army, which erupted following a botched ambush attempt on the soldiers.
Ms O'Neill told those gathered for the commemoration that Irish unity was now a "mainstream debate in society" and there was an opportunity to end partition and "build a new united Ireland for everyone".
She said: "This is what Peadar McElvanna was committed to achieving."