Troubles victims' families call for more truth rallies after thousands march in Belfast
Protesting families of Troubles victims yesterday vowed to continue to take to the streets as part of a renewed campaign for information over their relatives' deaths.
Speakers at the #TimeforTruth march, which saw a crowd of thousands assemble in front of Belfast City Hall, demanded action on stalled efforts to deal with the legacy of the conflict.
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Several proposals on legacy issues are on hold due to the Stormont stalemate, such as an independent Historical Investigations Unit, a truth and recovery body, and increased funds for coroners' inquests and Police Ombudsman probes.
Yesterday's event was billed as being open to both sides of the community, but did not include any unionist speakers.
While organisers had urged victims from across the community to attend, most were from the nationalist community.
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and MLAs Gerry Kelly, Caral Ni Chuilin and Emma Rogan, whose father Adrian was shot dead in the 1994 Loughinisland massacre, attended the event.
Mrs O'Neill said the victims were "marching for truth" and wanted to "see the legacy mechanism implemented so these families can get access to inquests".
Hundreds of bereaved relatives carried photos of their loved ones through the streets while holding black flags and banners. A minute's silence was held outside City Hall.
John Kelly, whose 17-year-old brother Michael was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, told the crowd it was "outrageous that relatives who lost loved ones or people who were injured in the conflict have to take to the streets protesting for truth and justice".
"Today's march is open to all families, no matter their background, who lost loved ones or were injured in the conflict," he said. "Truth belongs to everyone, it does not belong to any one group or individuals.
"This is the start of a new campaign, this is the start of a campaign for Time for Truth, and hopefully in the future there'll be more marches like this."
Ciaran MacAirt, whose grandmother Kathleen Irvine died in the 1971 McGurk's Bar atrocity, told those assembled that the families had been fighting for the truth for over 46 years. He called for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement, and to "properly resource its mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the past, especially the proposed Historical Inquiries Unit". He also called for action to "properly resource the inquest system" and the Police Ombudsman's office.
Addressing the crowd was Briege Voyle, whose mother Joan Connolly, was shot dead by the Army in Ballymurphy in 1971.
She called for the coroner to assume responsibility for tracing the suspects, and for funding to be released for inquests. It makes me so angry that we have to take to the streets to get the truth," she said.
"Inquests are a crucial legal step for families faced with the loss of loved ones at the hands of the state."
Several speakers accused the Government of "blocking" families from "getting the truth".
However, Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the march was "selective" as it had a "very pro-republican narrative".
"It may not have been meant to be selective, but it was," he said. "You need only look at the placards, which were primarily focused against victims of the security forces and the State.
"It does not question the IRA's part in creating the vast majority of the victims here.
"Those people marching deserve the truth. But I would not have felt comfortable holding up a placard to a murdered soldier or a victim of the IRA. In truth it was a republican march."
Ms Ni Chuilin called tweets from loyalists criticising the march "totally offensive and lacking in dignity".
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said that the "prominent presence" of individuals such as Mr Kelly "politicised the issues".
"The march will therefore be understood by many as an anti-State march and therefore was attended by a very specific section of the population," he said.
"As an organisation, we are also clear that we support all innocents from across the community who pursue justice, truth and accountability.
"But we are clear there must exist equitable pathways with equitable levels of resource which means that all can advance their objectives."
Victims' campaigner Raymond McCord, whose son was murdered by the UVF, was present. He said he wanted more people to attend future similar events representing all victims.
The day after the latest talks collapsed, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said the party had secured a commitment from the Government for a public consultation on stalled mechanisms to deal with the Troubles and to release funds needed to finance legacy inquests.
Mr Kelly claimed funding for coroners' probes into disputed deaths was agreed during the recent talks, although DUP leader Arlene Foster has said it would be "astonishing" if the Government granted funding for legacy inquests without an overall agreement.
London has said all discussions with Northern Ireland's parties were in the context of how it would respond if there was a deal.
A spokeswoman added that the Government had set out clear commitments to take forward the Stormont House Agreement legacy institutions, and to support inquest reform.