THE PSNI knew in advance that Sinn Fein was intending to use replica assault rifles as part of a republican parade in Dungiven last summer, the Roe Valley Sentinel has revealed.
Police said that the political party held “valid certification” for the firearms, which was also inspected by officers.
The PSNI revealed, in response to a Freedom of Information request, that Sinn Fein had provided prior notice of its intention to hold various ‘Troubles’ re-enactment parades.
An Operational Order marked confidential but released under FoI read: “Sinn Fein has notified police and the Parades Commission of their intention to hold a public procession in Dungiven on Sunday, August 5, 2012 to commemorate the Hunger Strike. The organisers have notified that they expect 26 bands with approximately 1,000 participants and crowds of spectators in the region of 15,000.”
Significantly, the confidential document adds: “In addition to the bands there will be re-enactments of the Hunger Strike, RUC checkpoints, strip searches, etc.
“Imitation/replica firearms will be on show during these re-enactments. Sinn Fein holds valid certification for these items which will be inspected by police prior to the events.”
A furore erupted about the use of the replica weapons and the re-enactments after the Sentinel revealed that imitation assault weapons were put into the hands of young teenagers who were pictured wearing paramilitary style clothing as part of the event.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell, speaking to the Sentinel after the parades, said that there were “very serious questions that need to be answered”.
He added: “Any re-enactments with impressionable, young teenagers using a replica weapon – which represents a real one which was used to murder people – is wrong. For someone who looks like they are no more than 14 or 15 to be permitted to portray this – which is what the real weapon would have been used for – and to put a young person on the front line like this is totally reprehensible.”
UUP MLA Ross Hussey was part of his party’s delegation which met the Parades Commission about the parade.
“Our concerns relate to the fact that this parade was allowed to proceed with members of the group carrying replica firearms, firearms which in living memory and in recent days were used to murder people in Northern Ireland, caused extreme offence to unionists in the area,” he said.
“Arguments will doubtless be made that replica firearms were carried in some of the Covenant Centenary Parades and whilst this is true, those weapons were 100 years old and were certainly part of our distant history.
“The same could not be said for AK47 rifles, Armalite rifles and others which are still in use today and the weapons of choice of republican terrorists.”