Easter events overshadowed by violent PSNI operation

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A PSNI arrest operation at a major Easter commemoration in Derry resulted in scenes of violence and renewed a controversy over the force’s handling of traditional republican parades in the north of Ireland.

Hundreds of events took place across Ireland last weekend to mark the anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and to honour those who have given their lives to the Irish cause.

But the violent arrest of several participants inside Derry city cemetery by snatch squads of baton-wielding Crown police marred what had been the largest march, peacefully attended by thousands of republicans.

It sparked an immediate reaction from local youths who threw rocks and petrol bombs at the PSNI’s armoured vehicles before they quickly withdrew.

It is understood the march of a uniformed colour party ahead of the main parade was considered to be in breach of a ruling by the Parades Commission against paramilitary clothing.

Speeches delivered at the ‘National Republican Commemoration’ on Monday were also uncompromising.

“So to those that have spent the last number of years attempting to denigrate us, we say this; you have failed,” said one masked man.

“To those who have attempted to criminalise us, you have failed. To those that want us to go away, we say no. To the collaborators, to the quislings, to the traitors, to the crumb takers and fortune makers we say this. We are here to stay.”

Sinn Féin spokesperson Gerry Kelly said that all Easter commemorations should be dignified and respectful and that “the days of people wearing masks at commemorations should be over”.

He said the violence was “wrong and disrespectful”.

“This week Easter commemorations were held all over Ireland. People turned out in large numbers to celebrate and commemorate Ireland’s patriot dead. The vast majority of these commemorations were conducted with dignity and respect.

“However, there were masked men and women at a small number of parades. The days of people wearing masks at these commemorations should be over. Celebrating our patriot dead should be done with openness, pride, and with respect.”

But the arrest operation drew allegations of double standards in the PSNI’s handling of parades, particularly those organised by loyalists.

Independent republican councillor Gary Donnelly said the response by the PSNI to the Derry march was “completely disproportionate”.

He said: “People don’t want to see this type of behaviour, of course not, but if the police would’ve stayed away and left the young people alone then this wouldn’t have happened.

“People just want to remember and honour their dead. Why is their disproportionate policing happening?

“A number of other republican events had masked colour parties over the weekend and their response was different. There is a history of this in Derry and young people were obviously expecting a police reaction.

“There was definitely one person hit numerous times with batons and the policing response was completely disproportionate by their own standards regarding this communication.

“It’s evident that in years gone by that if the police stay away then this type of action does not happen.”

A number of other uniformed colour parties were present at other Easter commemoration events, such as the Irish Republican Socialist Party parade at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, and at one organised by Anti-Imperialist Action in Dublin.

Traditional colour parties also took part in the Drumboe commemoration organised by Republican Sinn Féin in Donegal, while a gunfire salute took place at a commemoration in Strabane.

Three masked men, apparently members of Óglaigh na hÉireann (ONH), also issued a statement at an Easter commemoration organised by Republican Network for Unity at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast. At events organised by Republican Sinn Féin a statement was read out in the name of the leadership of the Republican Movement.

Several bands took part and a large crowd attended the Easter commemoration event in County Tyrone organised by the independent Tyrone Nation Graves Association (TNGA). It made its way through Carrickmore before a short ceremony was held at a garden of remembrance where those in attendance were addressed by former republican prisoner Tommy McKearney.

At Sinn Féin’s largest commemoration of the weekend in west Belfast, Mary Lou McDonald delivered a peace-building speech in which she called for unionists to have an “equal part” in creating a new Ireland.

Addressing the large crowd that assembled in Milltown Cemetery, Ms McDonald urged unionists to “walk this journey with us” to a united Ireland.

“A future of equality and freedom belongs to you,” she stated. “A future of progress and change belongs to you. A future of prosperity and opportunity belongs to you.”

Ms O’Neill addressed those gathered in Carrickmore, Co Tyrone on the subject of te upcoming election. She said it was “about the future, the next generation and what people, from whatever background or tradition, can achieve” if they work together.

She stated that after May 5, her party is committed to get the Assembly and Executive up and running “without delay”.

“We want to lead, not just in the Executive but across Ireland,” Ms O’Neill told the crowd. “We are determined in the time ahead to lead a government in Dublin.

“We wish to unite our people and our country and with the support of citizens, that is what we will do.”

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