Northern Ireland

DUP leader urges Sinn Fein rethink on attending ‘killing machine’ commemoration

John Finucane speaking at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
John Finucane speaking at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

A planned republican commemoration in South Armagh will celebrate members of an IRA “killing machine” and retraumatise their victims, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned.

The DUP leader urged Sinn Fein MP John Finucane to reconsider his attendance as a speaker at the event on Sunday.

However, Mr Finucane’s party colleague Conor Murphy rejected the DUP criticism and said the party had never spoken out previously about the long-running commemoration.

He said the late Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness had addressed the event in the past and the DUP, his then partners-in-government, did not raise any objection.

Mr Murphy said the main unionist party was only protesting now in a bid to distract the public from its own blockade of powersharing at Stormont at time when public services were facing financial crisis.

Read more: 

  • Who are Sinn Fein?
  • Sinn Fein ‘cannot ride two horses' when it comes to NI's troubled past – Micheál Martin
  • O'Neill defends Sinn Fein MP's attendance at South Armagh event
Northern Ireland Assembly talks
DUP leader Sir Jeffery Donaldson speaks to the media outside Stormont Castle (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Finucane, whose solicitor father Pat was murdered by loyalists during the Troubles, is due to address Sunday’s event, which is billed as the South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration.

Victims’ representatives have contended the event will commemorate the actions of the IRA’s South Armagh unit during the Troubles.

Sir Jeffrey commented on the controversy surrounding Mr Finucane’s attendance after meeting with the other main Stormont parties for discussions about the region’s finances on Thursday.

“I think that how Sinn Fein are going about this is the wrong approach,” said the DUP leader.

“Building a fun day around celebrating volunteers who, let’s face it, were one of the most dangerous and feared killing machines in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and I have members of my family circle who were victims of that killing machine in South Armagh, is that the way to build a shared future?”

He added: “I think as we look to the next 25 years in Northern Ireland, we’ve got to start looking to the future.

“None of us will forget those dark days of our troubled past. And the communities that I represent, the scars are still there, the broken homes remain, broken lives are still there.

“But as we look to the future, surely the next 25 years has got to be about reconciliation and prosperity.

“And I will simply say to John Finucane, ‘do you believe that your attendance and participation in that event is conducive towards what we’re trying to build for Northern Ireland and the future, a shared future, about reconciliation, about healing the wounds? Is this conducive to healing wounds?’ Because the victims that I talked to feel that this reopens the wounds for them, it compels them to revisit the trauma that they experienced during the Troubles.”

Mr Murphy, who also attended Thursday’s meeting at Stormont Castle, said all commemorations needed to be dealt with “sensitively”.

“This is an event that has been going on for 13 years without as much as a murmur around it, when people who were sitting around the executive table spoke at it,” he said.

“I spoke at the event, Martin McGuinness spoke at the event, TDs, other MPs spoke at that event over the years with never any issue been raised in relation to it.

“But now it’s an issue for the DUP and then suddenly it’s an issue for everybody else.

“The real issue for people is who’s getting back into government to take decisions to protect public services, who’s wanting to tackle our waiting lists, the fact that education programmes are hanging by a knife edge from being cut from very vulnerable kids, the fact that the report today from the Housing Executive was that very vulnerable people are going to lose support services, who’s getting back in to take decisions around that?”

Northern Ireland Assembly talks
Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy (Liam McBurney/PA)

He added: “All commemorations need to be dealt with sensitively.

“There’s no hierarchy of victimhood here, there were people who were victimised by the British state, by loyalist forces, by republican forces as well.

“So there’s no hierarchy in terms of victimhood, all of the parties that sit around the executive table, all of the parties in the south, and the British government and the parties in Britain, all attend commemorations, all of them do that, of people who were involved in war and inflicting pain on other people.

“So there is a need to be sensitive in relation to that.

“And we have to always be careful in relation to that and we do want to build a reconciled society and a shared society but people recognise that people have a right to commemorate their dead.

“And they should do that in a way which is dignified and is sensitive.

“And we’re always up for that.

“And that’s what we’ve been doing during that particular commemoration and hundreds of commemorations over the last number of years.

“And yet now it’s an issue today.

“And then you have to ask yourself, why is it an issue today when it wasn’t an issue for 13 years, when government ministers who were sitting around the table in here were down speaking at it?

“And then you ask well, what is the issue they (the DUP) don’t want to be talked about, and that is the fact that they’re keeping down an executive which is punishing and damaging ordinary people who need public services.”

On Wednesday, Irish deputy premier Micheal Martin said Sinn Fein “cannot ride two horses” when it comes to Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

Mr Martin said he supports asking questions of British Army or police actions, but said on the other hand that Sinn Fein “isn’t really doing anything” to secure answers around the actions of the Provisional IRA.

The Tanaiste said he did not believe Mr Finucane should address Sunday’s event.