The son of a Co Tyrone IRA victim has branded last night’s ‘Loughgall martyrs’ commemoration near Pomeroy “sickening”.
Rev Alan Irwin’s father Thomas was shot dead in March 1986 – 12 months before the SAS shot and killed eight members of the IRA’s ruthless East Tyrone unit as they attacked Loughgall RUC station in 1987.
One of the guns taken from the body of a dead terrorist at Loughgall had been used to murder the DOE worker and part-time UDR man near Omagh.
Yesterday evening, Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill was the main speaker at a march and rally in honour of the eight-man IRA gang.
The event got under way from the car park of the Church of Immaculate Conception at Altmore. One of those killed at Loughghall, Eugene Kelly, is buried in the graveyard of the church.
Rev Irwin, from Lack in Co Fermanagh, said the presence of Ms O’Neill at the commemoration was disappointing but not surprising.
“It is another glorification of those who had deliberately set out to murder,” he said.
“I think what surprises me is how gullible, or how naive, a lot of people are to have swallowed some of the rhetoric – that they (Sinn Fein) are talking about ‘equality’ and all of these things but continue to justify terrorism.
“If somebody is committing a criminal act they should face justice, but to start to glorify them, and to put them on some sort of a pedestal, is sickening.”
Commenting on the use of Catholic Church property, apparently without prior permission, Rev Irwin said: “I suppose that is a matter for the Roman Catholic Church, but I do think they need to come out and make a very clear statement in relation to the use of their property.
“But then it doesn’t surprise me as Sinn Fein don’t really have respect for anyone else – they are quite happy enough to use anybody’s property. The church needs to come out and say that it is not happy for its grounds to be used for that type of event.”
On the day former IRA leader and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness was buried in March, Rev Irwin led a service in Lisnaskea to remember the innocent victims of terrorism.
He said the Catholic Church “needs to take a firmer approach in relation to terrorism and terrorist activity,” and added: “It is a matter for them but I do think they need to be very clear on where they stand.
“There is fear there. This whole peace process was built on fear and continues to be built on fear. The threat is always there – that fear of going back to ‘the bad old days’. I think that’s why people are afraid to speak out or say anything.”
Over a number of days the News Letter has asked the Catholic Church whether it condoned or condemned the use of its property as an assembly point for the commemoration parade in honour of an IRA gang.
No response has been received to date.