ULSTER Unionist Danny Kennedy has hit out at nationalist politicians in south Armagh over their opposition to a march commemorating Protestants murdered by the IRA.
He was speaking after both the SDLP and Sinn Fein opposed a parade retracing the route of the minibus used by 10 workmen gunned down at Kingsmills in 1976.
The Newry and Mourne UUP MLA said: “This is a victims’ march to reflect the atrocities in south Armagh, including Kingsmills. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP are guilty of attempting to raise the temperature here but I very much hope that that can be avoided.”
The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) described the Kingsmills attack as “sectarian savagery” which had been planned for some time in advance by the IRA.
Opposing opinions regarding the event, planned for February 25, were shared with the Parades Commission yesterday by representatives of the families of the Kingsmills victims, the PSNI, SDLP and Sinn Fein.
The Parades Commission has yet to reach a decision.
Mr Kennedy said a victims’ march shouldn’t present a problem to people in the area and added: “I think people need to be careful that they do not dismiss the legitimate victims in south Armagh from the unionist perspective.”
The UUP assemblyman is campaigning for “maximum justice” for the families of those who were murdered. He has been pressing for Taosieach Enda Kenny to meet the Kingsmills families, as the killers escaped arrest by hiding in the Republic, according to the HET.
Last week Mr Kennedy publicly slated the Irish Government for giving him eight months of “holding replies” to his requests for such a meeting with the relatives.
As part of their joint campaigning, South Armagh victims’ groups FAIR had planned a parade retracing the three-and-a-half mile route of the minibus from Glenanne to Kingsmills.
The original application by Willie Frazer of FAIR proposed that some 600 people, including 11 marching bands, would walk the route from Glenanne factory along Mowhan Road, Corlat Drive, Kingsmill Road, Drumnahunshin Road and Whitecross.
However, plans for the march have been radically changed, with no marching bands now due to take part in what will be a smaller event attended by around 150 people.
Hundreds of nationalists turned out to a recent meeting in Whitecross to object to the plan.
Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy said at the meeting: “The organiser of this rally has applied for a march with up to 11 bands on a route which passes through Whitecross, an overwhelmingly nationalist area and past the homes of seven members of the Reavey family”.
Three Reavey brothers were murdered by the UVF the day before the Kingsmills shootings in 1976.
In a statement released yesterday following Sinn Fein’s meeting with the Parades Commission, Newry and Armagh MP Mr Murphy said he hoped “common sense” would prevail in their determination.
Mr Murphy said: “This was another opportunity for residents and myself to put forward our views that the people of the area want to be left in peace — they do not want this march through this area.
“The local community believe that the march is intended to ignite sectarian tensions and the organisers are using the families who lost loved ones at Kingsmills.”
SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley, said: “The community here are opposed to this and I support them. This march is intended to intimidate the nationalist community and stoke up sectarian tensions in a mixed area where people of different traditions live peacefully side by side.”
Mr Bradley claimed the real reason for the march was FAIR’s dispute with an EU funding body and added: “My view is that he’s simply using the victims as part of that campaign.”
When asked if he thought a similar march could take place under different circumstances, Mr Bradley said: “If it was purely a march organised by victims themselves then it might be viewed differently.”
Last night FAIR spokesman Pastor Barrie Halliday said that plans for the parade had been radically changed.
“There will no marching bands and only around 150 people will take part. We have a replica of the minibus used and will carry photographs of those murdered at Kingsmills.”
He said they were quizzed by the commission about the timing of the parade, with it being suggested that it was linked to FAIR’s funding difficulties.
Stormont bodies publicly accused FAIR of financial irregularities in summer 2010 and the group’s funding was cut. The Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister has decided that the conclusions of investigations should not be published. FAIR says it is taking legal action to have the report published and its funding reinstated.
“It was suggested to us that we should have a joint commemoration with the Reavey family instead of our parade, but that is not acceptable to us,” Mr Halliday added. “This parade is to raise the issue of the Kingmills murders.”