A plan to honour the republican hunger strikers alongside an important religious centenary commemoration is a “disappointing” change of direction for the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), Tom Elliott has said.
Former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Tom Elliott called on the Catholic fraternal order’s leaders to reveal whether they approved of the decision to celebrate “those who murdered their own fellow Irish citizens,” at the Our Lady of Fatima event in Co Tyrone next month.
Promotional material for the AOH Tyrone County Board’s ‘Hibernian Day’ event at Greencastle on September 10 states: “We will also be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Our Lady Of Fatima and honouring the hunger strikers.”
The current president of the Tyrone County Board is former IRA member Gerry McGeough. He was previously elected Tyrone AOH president in 2011 but was later jailed for the 1981 attempted murder of ex-DUP councillor Sammy Brush.
Earlier this year the Tyrone AOH took part in a ceremony at the republican garden of remembrance in Carrickmore – described in the Irish News report on the event as an “unprecedented” move for the AOH.
The same report said: “It is considered rare for members of the AOH to take part in republican commemorative events.”
Commenting on the latest commemoration plans. Mr Elliott said “It is sad that the Ancient Order of Hibernians are moving towards an organisation who are commemorating terrorists.
“This has not been a traditional role for the AOH, it is therefore disappointing that they are going in the direction of celebrating those who murdered their own fellow Irish citizens, including many from their own Roman Catholic religion.”
Ulster Unionist Mr Elliott added: “Maybe this attitude from the AOH is just in Co Tyrone where convicted republican terrorist Gerry McGeough has assumed a leading role, however there is a responsibility on the organisation leadership to let us know their position on such commemorations.”
Last August, McGeough sparked a storm of protest when he labelled Catholic judges and prosecutors in Northern Ireland “traitors” who will be dealt with as “collaborators”.
At the time, the AOH leadership distanced the organisation from the remarks which McGeough made in a personal capacity. Assistant secretary John Shanahan said: “These remarks in no way represent the values of the AOH.”
The AOH has not responded to a request for comment on the hunger strike commemoration, while the Tyrone County Board said it would not be commenting.
• Another high-profile Irish republican has been elected to a senior position within the AOH in the US.
Former Noraid fund raiser Martin Galvin became chair of the New York State Freedom For All Ireland Committee following the New York AOH state convention last month.
Galvin is a close friend of Gerry McGeough and spoke on McGeough’s behalf in the wake of the Catholic judiciary furore – sparked by the Tyrone man’s comments on a New York radio station.
Galvin told BBC Radio Ulster: “He (McGeough) regards people who are working against a united Ireland as wrong, as his political opponents.
“He believes that many of them should be working harder for a united Ireland. But it’s not to say, let’s go after them in a threat. Let’s go after them in any way other than trying to get a political solution”.