Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has hit out at ‘dissident’ republicans, labelling them ‘imposters’ for carrying on the name of the IRA.
Mr McGuinness made the remark as he gave the Eamonn Lafferty Memorial Lecture in the Creggan Sports Hall on Thursday night to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of the Provisional IRA Volunteer.
It was one of a number of events organised to mark the anniversary and followed a wreath laying ceremony at the site where the Creggan man was fatally wounded in a gun battle with British soldiers in August 1971.
The Sinn Fein MP said Volunteers like Eamonn Lafferty were an inspiration to a new generation of republicans and continue to inspire today.
“It was partition, injustice, and unionist domination that compelled people like myself and Eamonn Lafferty to join the ranks of Oglaigh na hEireann. It was not for romantic reasons nor was it done on a whim.
“When Eamonn decided to join the IRA it was obvious that a whole new generation of republicans was coming forward and that life would never be the same again.
“I am proud to have known him as a Volunteer. I’m proud of all the men and women Volunteers from this city. There have been attempts by the British media and by our opponents, not all of them British, to present the IRA campaign as a terrorist campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“The war in this city was between the IRA and the British army. Probably unlike anywhere else in the North, the demarkation lines were very clear in Derry,” he said.
Mr McGuinness contrasted the actions of the IRA in the past with the IRA groups operating today.
“Forty-six IRA volunteers gave their lives in this city since the war began. That has probably been the most remarkable period this city has ever seen in terms of resistance to foreign rule.
“All were young people. All a credit to their families and to republicanism. I am very proud that they were part of us. Every meeting we go into today and in everything we do they are with us.
“We were all part of the one organisation; the IRA. We see others strutting about today who are imposters, They are not fit to lace the boots of people like Eamonn Lafferty and James O’Hagan. They are trying to turn back the clock,” he said.
And in a direct message to other republican groups, the Sinn Fein MP said: “When you gather at the Cuchulain monument in the City Cemetery with a handful of supporters just remember that the people commemorated there were not part of your organisation.”
Mr McGuinness also said he believes the Provisional IRA made the right decision to pursue its objectives by entirely peaceful and democratic means.
“When the British conceded they could not defeat the IRA that posed a very difficult question for us, could the IRA defeat the British Army? I have no doubt that if the IRA had not called a ceasefire in 1994 it would be fighting now and forever but I would have been a very poor leader of Irish republicanism if it continued and more young people went to their deaths.
“We opted for a different approach; to put it up to the unionists and the British and Irish governments. That strategy brought the British to the negotiating table. It was the right thing to do. I am proud that we took the right approach.
“The IRA make their own democratic decision and they supported the strategy. Its not always easy but at the next election it’s almost certain that Sinn Fein will be the largest nationalist party in Derry. It’s been a long time coming but it can be achieved,” he said.