Belfast Telegraph

Unionist fury over hunger strike rally in Northern Ireland town

Last year’s commemoration in Castlewellan
Last year’s commemoration in Castlewellan
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

Plans to hold a major rally in Strabane to commemorate the hunger strikers have been criticised by unionists.

Thousands are expected to attend the National Hunger Strike Commemoration on August 4, which will marks 38 years since 10 republican prisoners died in the Maze in 1981.

The event was launched by Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney.

Local DUP councillor Allan Bresland said it should not be held in the predominantly natoinalist Co Tyrone town.

He added: "A lot of UDR men who lived in the town were shot out of it during the Troubles. Republican terrorists also tried to kill me when I was in the UDR in 1981.

"Strabane was a very cold place for Protestants and it's not getting much better. I would say the best thing is to not hold it."

Kenny Donaldson from victims' support group South East Fermanagh Foundation also hit out.

He added: "Innocent victims across Northern Ireland remember their loved ones every day with dignity and respect.

"Everyone has the right in this society to remember their loved ones, but the way in which terrorism chooses to publicly glamorise it is obviously very difficult for innocent victims to stomach.

"There's also the message it sends out to today's generation, it almost excuses and explains the use of terrorism as a legitimate activity when it obviously was not."

Last year the annual commemoration was held in Castlewellan and was attended by Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald.

At the time Sandra Harrison, who lost her brother Alan in Kilkeel 30 years before, criticised the event, saying it was "an insult" to his memory.

Foyle MLA Mr McCartney, who spent 53 days on a fast during the first hunger strike in 1980, was in Strabane last Friday.

Launching the event, he said: "By October 3 of that year, 10 Irish republicans died on hunger strike to defeat Maggie Thatcher's policy of criminalisation.

"We are hoping that as many people from around west Tyrone in particular and throughout the island of Ireland will come to ensure that we celebrate the memory of 10 courageous Irish republicans."

Also present at the launch were local Sinn Fein representatives Catherine Kelly and Declan McAleer.

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MP Orfhlaith Begley said: "The 1981 hunger strike was a watershed in Irish history and had a profound impact in terms of radicalising communities throughout Ireland.

"This impact was particularly felt in areas like here in Strabane, where pride in the hunger strikers, their courage and sacrifice, remains undiminished almost 40 years on."

Belfast Telegraph


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