Northern Ireland news

Organiser hails first Omagh Pride parade as 'phenomenal'

Enjoying Omagh's first Pride parade
Mairead Holland

OMAGH'S first Pride parade saw murdered PSNI officer Ronan Kerr remembered by a colleague who paid tribute to his friend in a touching speech.

Hundreds gathered in the Co Tyrone town to mark the historic event, which also saw speakers from LGBTQ rights groups take to a stage after the parade to address the crowd.

Alongside the speakers was PSNI officer Paul Bloomer, who told those gathered about his friendship with Ronan Kerr, who was murdered aged 25 in 2011 when a bomb exploded under his car as he left his Omagh home. No-one has yet been convicted of the murder, though one person has been jailed for offences connected to the investigation.

Mr Bloomer shared a story about how he swapped boots with Ronan during training to qualify as a PSNI officer, and was wearing them for Saturday's parade.

"When Ronan was killed, I promised myself I would keep those boots forever, and only use them for special occasions," he said.

"I have worn them at every pride event I have ever walked in in uniform."

Describing his friendship with Ronan, Mr Bloomer continued: "We were different people; he was from the country, I was from the city. He was straight, I'm queer. When we were young, he played gaelic, I was in the air cadets. He had a strong Irish identity, and I was brought up in a mixed marriage with a shared identity. We didn't know each other from before and we were very different people, but we supported each other as colleagues."

Politicians from Sinn Féin, the Green Party, UUP, SDLP, People Before Profit and Alliance were among those who turned out to show their support.

The parade also attracted small groups of protesters from the Free Presbyterian Church - leaflets had also previously been delivered to local homes - and a Catholic group. Last Saturday, prominent Tyrone republican Gerry McGeough was assaulted during a Pride parade in Cookstown. Mr McGeough was with a group of people who were saying the Rosary when he was approached by a woman and punched in the face.

Co-Founder of Omagh Pride, poet Cat Brogan, said the parade had been "phenomenal", with people attending from as far away at Manchester and Dublin.

"The most important thing was for the people in Omagh to be able to be there with their families. There were young people out and older people as well. I was sitting with people on their 70s, who knew my parents," she said.

"It was just so joyous but there was pain as well. I was speaking to one guy who said he wished it had been like that when he was a teenager, and what a difference it would have made to his life.

"What we did on Saturday shows that everybody belongs here."

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