Victims of the Provisional IRA will never “insult the memory of their loved ones” by walking in a march that includes those who carried out acts of terrorism, two victims’ groups have said.
Several unionist representatives have also spoken out after leading members of Sinn Fein took part in the ‘Time for Truth’ march in Belfast city centre on Sunday.
DUP leader Arlene Foster also highlighted how Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill had attended the Belfast rally organised by families bereaved by the actions of both the security forces and loyalist paramilitaries, and then travelled to south Armagh to honour an IRA man killed “whilst performing terrorist actions” in 1979.
Around 2,000 people took part in the march calling for action on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles – including the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement.
However, Innocent Victims United (IVU) spokesman Kenny Donaldson said the prominence of Sinn Fein figures ensured the event was off limits to those bereaved by the IRA.
“The arrogance of Sinn Fein knows no bounds,” he said.
“On Sunday morning/early afternoon they claimed their focus was on supporting those who have been denied justice and truth, they use terms such as equality and building reconciliation, then just a few hours later they are front and centre of an event which eulogised someone who whilst performing terrorist actions was himself killed.
“Various people have today sought to portray victims of Provisional IRA terrorism as unreasonable, as being an impediment to peace because they were not part of the ‘Time for Truth’ march. Let me be clear; innocents of Provisional IRA terrorism will not walk alongside leaders of the Provisional republican movement – they will not insult the memory of their loved ones”.
Ken Funston of the South East Fermanagh Foundation said victims of “republican terror” would not have been welcome due to the “tone” of the event.
“I observed within the crowd a number of people responsible for acts of terrorism in the past, and for their victims to attend would potentially retraumatise them,” he said.
Mr Funston said it was also important to point out that not all victims’ groups support the legacy structures agreed at Stormont House.
Commenting on Ms O’Neill’s attendance at the south Armagh memorial event, TUV leader Jim Allister said: “On Sunday, true to form, Sinn Fein glorified another IRA terrorist, proclaiming the fatuous mantra of ‘commitment to delivering a new, united and inclusive Ireland’; yet some foolish unionists believe Sinn Fein’s purpose in the Stormont talks is to help make Northern Ireland work.”
Speaking on the BBC Talkback programme, UUP MLA Doug Beattie said many victims were excluded from the rally because they “wouldn’t turn up and walk with Sinn Fein”.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “Republicans have the same right as any other section of the community to remember our loved ones. Our pain is no less and no more than anyone else’s and the loss of the republican community and the memory of our dead should not be disrespected.”