Republicans have come under fire after it emerged that an event to honour an IRA gang is to begin from premises owned by the Catholic Church – without the church’s consent.
Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, will be the guest speaker at a parade on Sunday commemorating the eight IRA terrorists killed by the SAS at Loughgall in 1987.
The event, which Sinn Fein has dubbed the ‘Loughgall Martyrs 30th anniversary’, is advertised as leaving from the Church of Immaculate Conception in Altmore, Co Tyrone.
The News Letter has learned that the organisers of the event did not seek the permission of the Catholic church to use its premises as an assembly point for the parade.
A source within the church said he was not aware the event was to take place in the church-owned car park, and confirmed the church had not been contacted by the organisers.
The News Letter asked the Catholic Church whether it condoned or condemned the use of its premises for a political event which will commemorate a group of dead IRA terrorists.
The church’s communications office in Dublin said this was a matter for the Archbishop of Armagh to address, but added he was unavailable for comment.
DUP MLA Keith Buchanan said: “Sinn Fein have shown no respect to the victims of IRA terrorism and to the wider community through this event.
“Having advertised that a parade will assemble in the grounds of a Roman Catholic Church they should clarify whether permission was sought to use these grounds or whether their disrespect extends to the use of property also.”
The Mid Ulster MLA condemned Mrs O’Neill’s participation in the event, adding that she was “commemorating men whose sole intent was to bring death and destruction to Loughgall”.
He added: “When she was appointed by Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president described Michelle O’Neill as a ‘new generation’ for the party. It seems however that all generations within Sinn Fein remain committed to rewriting the past and glorifying the terrorism which blighted Northern Ireland for so many years.
“We should not forget that this is a Sinn Fein organised and promoted event to be addressed by their leader in Northern Ireland.
“It is far beyond the justification by some that families have a right to remember their loved ones.
“This event is a party political glorification of terrorism which displays none of the respect the same republicans demand from others.”
The SDLP had been asked repeatedly if they could comment, but at time of writing had said nothing.
The News Letter asked Sinn Fein to clarify why it had not sought permission from the church, but it declined to respond.
However, the party did issue a statement in response to criticism levelled at Mrs O’Neill’s planned presence at Sunday’s memorial.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “The Good Friday Agreement affirms that everyone has a right to remember their dead.
“This commemoration will be held in a dignified and respectful manner to remember all those killed at Loughgall and to show community solidarity with their families, friends and neighbours.
“There can be no hierarchy of victims.”
Earlier this year in February, Mrs O’Neill also attended a ceremony marking the deaths of four IRA men who were shot dead by the SAS in Clonoe, Co Tyrone in 1992.