SINN Fein president Gerry Adams has expressed his sympathy to IRA victims’ families in Derrylin just hours after a religious service was held by a victims’ group to protest against a controversial hunger strike parade in the village.
Thousands of republicans from across Ireland gathered in Derrylin to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Hunger Strike in 1981. Unionists and victims’ groups branded the event as offensive and a glorification of terrorism.
Six members of the security forces were killed in the village by the IRA during the Troubles.
Up to 10,000 participants, including 27 bands held placards and banners of the hunger strikers as they marched through the village on Sunday where they were joined by Mr Adams and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Describing the event as a celebration, the Sinn Fein leader added:
“I accept entirely the right of anybody to give their opinions and in particular those families who have been bereaved or had loved ones hurt by the IRA.
“That’s fair enough and we have to be mindful and compassionate about all of that.
“I don’t accept the criticisms by the unionist politicians – not for a second.
“I think it was staged and in this new era we need to be mindful that every one has the right to honour their dead.”
When asked if he has sympathy for the families in Derrylin who have been affected by IRA murders, he replied: “Of course, wherever you go in the North there will be victims of all the combatant forces and of course you can’t but be mindful and that’s why Sinn Fein’s resolve was to agree the Haas proposals.”
The annual event, organised by Sinn Fein, is used to commemorate 10 IRA and INLA members who died during the 1981 hunger strike in the Maze Prison while demanding to be treated as political prisoners.
Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew gave the key note speech said republicans acknowledged the ongoing pain of those “saddened, offended or angered” by the event and said it was not the intention of parade organisers to offend anyone.
Derrylin Sinn Fein councillor Barry Doherty hit out at Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott following his criticisms of the parade.
Acknowledging local opposition to the event, he stated that it was a dignified parade.
“The march today is a dignified spectacle, we have every right to commemorate our fallen and our departed. Tom (Elliott) to my mind, has a bit of an obsession with Republican and Nationalist events,” he said.
“There will obviously be those, for political reasons, will in an effort to make themselves relevant, decide this is something they need to protest against however, there are also people who have lost family members that have a valid point and I appreciate this may seem to be rubbing their noses in things but as much right as they have to commemorate their dead we have that as well.”
Leading the day’s speeches, which included the Palestine Ambassador to Ireland Ahmad Abdelrazek, Derrylin Sinn Fein activist Leanne Maguire said it was an honour for her village to host the parade.
“It’s a great honour and privilege to have you here to honour the men who died on hunger strike during the course of our struggle for Irish freedom and independence.”
Palestian flags were waved by many participants during the rally which Ms Gildernew said sent a strong message that “Irish people reject the aggression of Israel”.