Sinn Féin has come in for stinging criticism for its meeting this week with Prince Charles, the head of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, less than 24 hours after it was announced that no further charges will be brought over the Bloody Sunday massacre.
Fourteen people were killed and 22 were wounded when ‘the Paras’ opened fire on a peaceful protest against internment in Derry, on Sunday 30 January 1972.
The Bloody Sunday campaign for justice denounced the meeting between Charles Windsor and Sinn Féin’s leader in the North Michelle O’Neill and party chairman Declan Kearney, as “a demeaning betrayal”.
In a press statement, the Bloody Sunday March For Justice Committee said “the fact that representatives of the biggest nationalist party in the North” had travelled to Belfast to greet the commander in chief of the Parachute Regiment had come as “a bomb-shell” to many citizens of Derry, and to members of the Bloody Sunday families in particular.
“It is astonishing that this should have happened within 24 hours of the families’ hopes of justice being dashed yet again. With just one exception, all of the members of Prince Charles’s regiment who took part in the Bloody Sunday massacre are to be let off the hook. At least, that’s the British establishment’s plan.
“This is a demeaning betrayal. We march for the truth for 50 years, then the leader of the liars is made welcome in our midst!”
The outcry recalled for the families another recent controversy when Sinn Féin met Prince Charles during the inquiry into the Ballymurphy massacre, when 11 civilians were killed by his regiment.
“If the lies were over, if Prince Charles and other military commanders were at last to tell the truth and say sorry, he might be entitled to a little bit of respect,” they said. “But he doesn’t have any respect for the people of Derry or for the Bloody Sunday dead.
“Prince Charles’ role in the Parachute Regiment isn’t ceremonial. The paras don’t do ceremony. There was nothing ceremonial about what happened around Rossville Street, Glenfada Park, Joseph’s Place, etc.
“Murder was done in the name of the State which Prince Charles is heir to. To shake his hand while the bereaved are still hurting is to bring shame on the city.”
The recurring meetings between Sinn Féin and the British royals and their awkward timing has raised questions over whether the party is being influenced by a covert British agenda.
The failure to address concerns over the meetings has again had a deeply polarising effect on the republican community. Groups such as the 32 County Sovereignty Committee lashed out.
“What this shows is that quislings Michelle O’neill and Declan Kearney, like others before them, care nothing for the victims and indeed the families of those murdered on bloody Sunday, nor the families and victims of countless murders by British armed forces in Ireland,” they said.
Former IRA PoW and Blanketman Dixie Elliott described the meeting as a show of arrogance.
“How much longer can they [Sinn Féin] be allowed to hide their duplicity behind a peace process that has lasted nearly as long as the war itself,” he asked.
Speaking to RTE television, Mr Kearney said the meeting had been “very important” for peace efforts. Although the British royals have never made any significant statement on the north of Ireland, Mr Kearney defended their role.
“Prince Charles and his mother have played a significant and positive role in helping us build on the progress,” he said.