Restrictions were placed on Sinn Fein’s annual hunger strike commemoration this week as a loyalist parade honouring two serial killers took place with open paramilitary involvement and with heavy financial support from the state.
Crowds of loyalists paraded along Ormeau Road in south Belfast on Thursday evening to mark the anniversary of Joe Bratty and Raymond Elder, two UDA/UFF men paramilitaries were linked to scores of sectarian killings including a 1992 gun attack on a Belfast bookmakers, in which five Catholics were killed.
Men at the parade were dressed in paramilitary-style clothing. A banner honouring UDA ‘commander’ John Gregg was also present.
The march ended at a newly built memorial on costing #11,000 -- incredibly funded by the North’s Housing Executive. The Housing Executive said the memorial was part of a “reimaging programme” that aimed to support communities in moving away from paramilitary displays and symbols, without further explanation.
But UDA and UFF flags were flown from lampposts surrounding the memorial as it became the focal point of a parade, attended by hundreds of people, which commemorated the two notorious killers.
A loyalist banner displaying the men’s faces was set beside the memorial. DUP Lisburn councillor Luke Poots was one of the onlookers at the parade.
Catholic residents said they feared that the move would increase community tensions. Tommy Duffin, whose father was killed in the 1992 bookies’ attack, said: “For the Housing Executive to give #11,000 for a memorial honouring these two people is a total shambles and a shame and it should be questioned.”
Meanwhile, IRA flags and symbols have been banned from a Sinn Fein-organised march in County Fermanagh to commemorate the 1981 Hunger Strike.
Thousands are expected at the parade through the village of Derrylin on Sunday afternoon. It will commemorate the deaths of 10 republicans, including IRA man Bobby Sands who was the first to die on the protest.
Unionists have called for the march to be stopped.
Sinn Fein MP Michelle Gildernew confirmed earlier this week that the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland, Ahmad Abdelrazek, will address the commemoration.
She said the Palestinian people had “stood in solidarity with Irish republicans” during the Hunger Strike.
“Today the Palestinian people are the victims of a genocidal attack from the Israeli government so it is important that we repay that solidarity by standing in support of their cause,” she said.