Belfast Telegraph

Unionist fury as festival names sporting event after IRA woman

By Gillian Halliday

A Northern Ireland council is facing questions after a community festival held a sporting event named after one of the Gibraltar Three.

On Tuesday, the annual West Armagh Community Festival held a ladies Gaelic football tournament named after Mairead Farrell in Sherry's Field - which is owned by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council (ABC).

Farrell was one of three members of a Provisional IRA active service unit shot dead two days before they planned to bomb a parade of the Royal Anglican Regiment in Gibraltar in March 1988.

Festival organisers, the West Armagh Consortium, have also advertised an under-14s Gaelic football tournament for today in honour of two local Official IRA men, Tony Hughes and Jake McGerrigan, who were killed by soldiers in 1973.

The playing field is part of a recreation facility in Armagh city and the council confirmed that it had launched an investigation into the matter.

"The council has noted the concerns raised and can confirm these matters are being looked into," it said.

Newry and Armagh DUP MLA William Irwin insisted yesterday that ABC council officials must provide a "full explanation" in light of what he described was the "misuse" of council-owned land.

Mr Irwin said the naming of the event had left victims of the IRA deeply upset.

He said: "I'm shocked and angry that a so-called community festival in Armagh has been turned into a terror-fest with the glorification of IRA members seemingly a key part of the programme. Sadly it appears that a council-owned facility has been used and abused for political purposes and that is not acceptable."

Urging the council to not allow the facility to be used again for the "glorification" of terrorists, Mr Irwin branded the actions of festival organisers as "disgraceful".

"It's shameful that the organisers consider sporting events, with young people taking part, as a suitable place for glorifying those who were terrorists and those who engaged in the most heinous criminal acts," the DUP member added.

"I have been inundated with complaints from innocent victims and others about these incidents in west Armagh.

"I will be enquiring as to whether ratepayers' money was used to fund any of the terror-glorifying events.

"It beggars belief that festival organisers consider it okay to allow these type of events to take place, particularly on council property.

"I also feel that this damages community relations even further."

Mr Irwin was backed yesterday by party colleague Freda Donnelly, a former mayor of the borough who currently sits on the ABC council.

"Council sporting grounds throughout our borough should be used for the playing and promotion of sport, not for the glorification of former terrorists who had no regard for the lives of innocent people," Ms Donnelly explained.

Condemning the West Armagh Consortium's decision to hold the events as "nothing short of the glorification of those who sought to kill and maim innocent men and women", the councillor insisted they should not be held up as role models for young people.

"It is disgraceful that sporting events would be given an association with such individuals, who have no place in today's Northern Ireland," she continued.

"Every day we hear so much about respect.

"However, where is the respect for the innocent victims of terrorism, especially when terrorists are being revered at a community festival."

The West Armagh Consortium was contacted. However, a group spokesperson declined to address the issue.

"At this stage we're not making a comment," he said.

"All of our committee members are volunteers and we're in the middle of running the festival, which is a very busy time."

Belfast Telegraph

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