An event celebrating the life of IRA Volunteer Mairead Farrell went ahead in Sinn Féin’s private offices at the Belfast Assembly last weekend following a ban on the commemoration using a public space at the Assembly buildings.
Farrell, along with Danny McCann and Sean Savage, were gunned down in cold blood by the SAS while they were on active service for the IRA in the British colony of Gibraltar in 1988.
Sinn Féin had sought permission to hold the event in Stormont’s Long Gallery to mark International Women’s Day on the 20th anniversary of her death.
An assembly commission voted on Thursday to block the plan, prompting the change of venue. The assembly group had also voted to ban camera or film crews at the Sinn Féin event in a censorship bid. In the end many journalists filmed the speakers regardless.
People crammed into the office in such numbers that Sinn Féin party president Gerry Adams had to call for the formalities to take place twice to allow all of those present to hear tributes paid to the west Belfast IRA woman.
However, the DUP’s Ian Paisley jnr claimed Sinn Féin’s use of its party offices for the event was a “monument to failure”.
Sinn Féin assembly member Jennifer McCann, who spent time in Armagh jail in the 1980s along with Mairead Farrell, said she had been an advocate for women’s rights.
She added that if she had not been killed in Gibraltar, Ms Farrell could have been standing in Parliament buildings as an elected Sinn Féin politician.
Earlier, around 2,000 people braved icy winds to mark the anniversary of the Gibraltar killings and those at Milltown, the the west Belfast graveyard where unionist paramilitary Michael Stone launched a murderous attack at the funeral of Gibraltar victim Sean Savage.
Just as Savage’s coffin was being lowered into a grave, Stone launched a gun and grenade attack that claimed three more lives, injuring 60 others.
John Murray, Thomas McErlean and IRA Volunteer Caoimhin Mac Bradaigh died in the cemetery attack as mourners challenged and chased Stone from the graveyard.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said: “If it wasn’t for those young men and the three that died more people would have been killed.
“The courage shown by those unarmed mourners is a huge tribute to them and their families.
“But Michael Stone wasn’t just a mindless thug working alone.
“He was working for the British and taxpayer’s money was used to fund the operation and to provide him with weapons.
“And it is not acceptable that a British establishment can carry out or use its surrogates to carry out atrocities and then cover them up.
“And we should all support the calls for an independent inquiry into these killings.”
Mr Adams also used the event to mark the ongoing instability in the DUP as it moves to elect a new leader to replace Ian Paisley.
“Big questions should be asked of unionism as it sets out to find its way.
“The DUP leadership is in a transition period.
“And as a result of that they are trying to talk tough.
“Female members of Sinn Féin organised an event to remember Mairead Farrell and in the end that event went ahead, but in their haste to block they put a ban on the use of cameras in the assembly building.
“I would say to the DUP that we’re used to bans and used to breaking bans.”
Meanwhile, relatives of the three victims travelled to Gibraltar last week to the site where the IRA team were executed by the SAS.
A sister of Sean Savage -- the youngest of the three -- said the 20th anniversary of their deaths had brought back vivid memories of the bleak period in the history of the north.
“This anniversary has hit me very hard,” she said.
“At the time you never really had a chance to grieve. There was so much going on.”
She said the pain of her brother’s death had “really hit home” now she had time to look back and reflect.
“Despite the fact that 20 years have passed, the memories of that terrible time are still very raw and I know I’m not alone when I say that,” Ms Savage said.