Unionists have hit out at the decision to allow an annual IRA commemoration to go ahead, despite the organisers having been repeatedly warned over its content.
The Hogan And Martin Sinn Fein Cumann parade is expected to take place this Sunday in Dunloy, Co Antrim, but politicians have blasted the “provocation and insult” wrought by previous parades.
John Finlay, the DUP Mayor of Ballymoney, said he is fearful that it could become a glorification of violence, akin to last year’s Castlederg parade, and compared it with the “more strident approach” taken against unionist parades in the village.
Like the Castlederg parade, the upcoming event, which is going ahead without any conditions and is listed as drawing hundreds of participants and supporters, honours two IRA men who were killed in the 1980s.
Councillor Finlay was angered to learn of past reported breaches – which are said to have included depictions of weapons and paramilitary trappings
The TUV likewise objected to the parade, and questioned why the organisers were being given a further opportunity to stage it.
Sinn Fein said in a statement: “This will be a dignified commemoration of two local republicans taking place in Dunloy, which is a predominantly nationalist town.”
Councillor Finlay said: “Bearing in mind the provocation and insult caused by this annual republican parade in previous years, I wrote to the Parades Commission last week to express my deep concerns and to urge them not to allow it to take place.
“I am dismayed at the decision to allow it to proceed, especially in light of what has happened in previous years.”
He added: “Compared to traditional Loyal Order parades, which are essentially religious in nature, this Sinn Fein parade will have a very different agenda.
“If what happened last summer in Castlederg is anything to go by, this Sunday’s parade has the potential to be a coat-trailing glorification of terrorism.”
He concluded that the approach to the event “contrasts sharply” with the treatment of loyalists.
A TUV spokesman said that Loyal Order parades in Dunloy have time-and-again been prevented from walking a distance of roughly 100m (about 330ft) between an Orange hall and a church, for instance.
The name of the planned Sinn Fein parade is a reference to Declan Martin and Henry Hogan.
According to a memorial on one strongly republican website, the pair were aged 18 and 20, and were killed in a gunfight with the Army in 1984, after the IRA had shot dead a soldier.
Jim Allister MLA, leader of the TUV, said the whole event was “very unsavoury”, adding that his party’s councillors had routinely objected to it.
The Parades Commission has received reports spanning a number of years of breaches of its code, and possibly even of terror legislation.
“The challenge for the Parades Commission is why are they allowing them to have that opportunity this year?” said Mr Allister.
Late last night, the Parades Commission issued a statement reading:
“No restrictions have been placed on the parade notified to take place in Dunloy on 23rd February.
“The Parades Commission will have monitors in place at the parade. “The commission emphasises the importance of adhering to the Code of Conduct.”
In a letter on its website, addressed to organisers of the parade, it said: “As you are aware, the commission has written to you on several occasions in the past about reported breaches of conduct which have taken place at the parade...”
It said that “breaches were again reported to the commission at last year’s (2013) parade”, and that previous letters about these issues had gone unanswered.
The commission’s letter continues: “In the absence of any response, and in light of the continuing reported breaches of the Code of Conduct which have taken place at the parade, the commission can only take the view that you do not intend to address the concerns it has raised.”
The year before, another letter had been sent which talked about reports it had received of weaponry being depicted on a bass drum.
This followed the exact same issue being reported a year earlier, after which the commission had warned organisers that such things may well breach the Terrorism Act.