Sinn Fein’s new northern leader has said there should be no hierarchy of victims as she spoke at a vigil in memory of four IRA Volunteers who were gunned down in an SAS ambush in a churchyard in Clonoe, County Tyrone.
Hundreds attended the dignified ceremony, including relatives of those killed, which was followed by a rendition of the Irish national anthem.
The four martyrs who died were Patrick Vincent, Sean O’Farrell, Peter Clancy and Barry O’Donnell.
Ms O’Neill said: “These were four ordinary young men, who faced extraordinary challenges. And they responded in defence of their community and also of their country. They never went looking for war, but it came to them.”
Relatives of the dead held candles and a lament was played on a tin whistle. The Irish tricolour and a plaque marked the spot where the deaths happened.
Ms O’Neill said: “It is a sad night for us as republicans and we come together 25 years later to remember their sacrifice, to remember that night, how we all felt.
“I can certainly remember the pain and the hurt and the sorrow and the shock, most of all felt by the families but also by the wider republican community.”
She said republicans and everyone else had every right to remember and honour their dead in a respectful and dignified manner.
“There can be no hierarchy of victims. Republicans recognise that,” she said.
“But it is the refusal of many within political unionism and the British state to do likewise that goes to the heart of many of the problems that we face in the political process.”
The event was organised by Coalisland Clonoe Martyrs Sinn Fein Cumann. Ms O’Neill said the past will always be a contentious place.
“There is no single narrative to any conflict anywhere in the world or at any time in history. Republicans understand that and accept it. We are committed to building bridges, to heal the hurt of the past and to build a better future for all of our children.”
The new SF Six County leader pointed to the situation whereby fifty legacy cases relating to conflict killings have yet to be heard in the courts.
In February last year, Justice Declan Morgan proposed that a specialist unit be set up that could deal with the cases within five years. However, the DUP blocked the funds needed to start the process.
The row over his stalled plans has resulted in a “wasted year” for victims, the judge said earlier this month. The families of victims of the Loughgall SAS ambush led a new High Court battle this week to finally secure funding for the inquests.
Speaking at the vigil, Ms O’Neill said the British government had blocked the legacy mechanisms of the Stormont House Agreement to deal with thousands of unresolved killings and injuries during the 30-year conflict.
“They don’t want the world to know what they did in our country. They don’t want the world to know about the death squads, about shoot-to-kill, about the torture and the full extent of collusion.
“They don’t want the world to know what they did in places like Clonoe, but we will overcome that because republicans today are every bit as determined as Sean, as Peter, Paddy and Barry were.”