Appeal for calm at Castlederg parade

Theresa Villiers,  Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has appealed for calm at today’s republican parade in Castlederg.

Issuing a statement shortly before the start time of the parade, she said: “I know the deep pain this parade will cause the families of victims in West Tyrone area and rest of NI.

“I would appeal for calm in Castlederg today.”

“All possible support must be given to the police in upholding the rule of law and acting to keep the community safe at this tense time.”

Earlier two relatives of victims of IRA terrorism in Castlederg made 11th-hour appeals to Sinn Fein to cancel a parade in memory of two IRA men who died while trying to blow the town up.

The Tyrone Volunteers’ Day event will mark the deaths of Castlederg IRA men Seamus Harvey, 23, and Gerard McGlynn, 20, who died in 1973 when their car bomb blew up early.

Calls to cancel the parade have come from Catholic and Protestant terror victims, First Minister Peter Robinson, UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, the TUV and Alliance Party, SDLP MLA Joe Byrne, UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall MEP and the NI Conservatives.

But Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein insisted the parade should ago ahead, citing his party’s responsibilities towards the families of the two IRA men.

Parade organisers expect 500 participants and 500 supporters while terror victims are holding an open air service in the town centre with up to 1,000 people attending.

Jackie Sproule was a part-time member of the UDR when he was gunned down in the town by the IRA as he was driving a lorry for his day job in 1980.

His nephew Jackie, named after his uncle, pleaded for the parade to be cancelled.

His uncle died on Christmas Day four years after being shot and an inquest found that the gunshot he suffered to the head was the cause. He suffered from epilepsy afterwards.

“My mum has never been right since,” his nephew said yesterday.

“She never had a Christmas after that. She put on a brave face but you could see the sparkle had gone from her eyes.

“He was driving his company lorry when he saw the IRA men lying on top of a car waiting for him. He ditched the truck as they fired 36 shots. One of them hit him in the head.”

It penetrated the skull and Mr Sproule understands it could not be removed.

“He was constantly watching his back after that.”

Two men were arrested and questioned but remained silent throughout questioning, he said. He has chosen not to hear their names as he does not want to know them if he meets them in the street.

“They would now be about the same age as Uncle Jackie. Ironically the Parades Commission determination which allowed the parade to go ahead came out on what would have been his 58th birthday.

“Mum has been to the doctor four or five times in the last two weeks over this. It is totally destroying her. Now she is grieving all over again.

“The parade is due to pass the exact spot where he was shot.

“We understand both his killers are still in Castlederg and may be at Sunday’s parade.”

Shelley Gilfillan’s brother Kenneth Smyth was murdered by the IRA in 1971 and her uncle, Lexie Cummings, killed in 1982. Both were in the UDR.

“Before Kenneth was murdered the IRA burst into my grandparents’ house and were able to go straight to his bedroom,” she said.

“When they found he wasn’t there they petrol bombed their house.”

Kenneth was murdered later that year along with Daniel McCormick as they were going to work.

Mr McCormick was a Roman Catholic and had recently resigned from the UDR.