The lauding of IRA man Raymond McCreesh as a “hero” at a republican parade has been condemned by unionist representatives as grossly offensive to terror victims.
At the annual Easter 1916 uprising commemoration in Newry yesterday, one group carried a 30-foot long banner with the words ‘Raymond McCreesh our hero’.
Newry and Mourne MLA Danny Kennedy described the tribute as “a deliberate act of provocation”, particularly to those victims and their families who still live in the area.
In 1977, McCreesh was convicted of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, firearms offences and PIRA membership. He died in the Maze hunger strike four years later.
In 2011 the PSNI Historical Enquiries Team linked him, along with two other men, to IRA murders committed with the Armalite he was caught with, including the Kingsmills massacre.
Newry council finalised its decision to name a playground in Patrick Street after McCreesh in December 2012.
Earlier this month the Equality Commission found the name failed to comply with the council’s Equality Scheme and called for a review of the decision.
Ulster Unionist representative Mr Kennnedy said republicans were souring community relations with such provocative displays.
“I had hoped the issue of the playpark, given that the Equality Commission had been so clear in its advice as to what had to be done, that that would be accepted graciously and without any further controversy.
“It would appear that is not going to be the case, and I think that is a very poor reflection on community relations.”
DUP MLA William Irwin said: “This is offensive to all right-thinking people.
“On top of calling the local playpark after him, it seems republicans are brazen in their attitute to unionists.
“This is very bad for community relations. If we want to move forward in Northern Ireland then this has to stop.”
Mr Irwin added: “It’s very difficult to try to move forward to a peaceful society that has tolerance and can live together, and when there’s glorification of murders then that sticks in the throat of many innocent victims and many law-abiding people.”
Ukip councillor for the area Henry Reilly said: “These parades have become particularly offensive over the last few years. They seem to want to rub salt into the wounds
“Most people in Newry and Mourne want to get away from this, but there is this group in Newry and south Armagh who seem to really want to kick their Protestant victims in the teeth.”
Addressing the Newry gathering, Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly called on the loyal orders to show “respect” and to “step up to the mark” and enter into a new phase of reconciliation over contentious parades.
Hundreds of republicans also paraded to Milltown cemetery in west Belfast yesterday, while a similar number gathered in Londonderry.
In Dublin, thousands attended the annual military ceremony which was led by Irish President Michael D Higgins along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other government ministers.
Almost 200 members of the army, navy and reserve forces took part.