Northern Ireland

John Finucane faces down critics at South Armagh commemoration event

North Belfast Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, pictured addressing Sunday's republican commemoration event in Mullaghbawn, south Armagh. Picture: PA
North Belfast Sinn Féin MP John Finucane, pictured addressing Sunday's republican commemoration event in Mullaghbawn, south Armagh. Picture: PA

SINN Féin MP John Finucane has insisted people have the right to remember loved ones with "dignity and pride" as he faced down critics at a republican commemoration event in south Armagh.

The North Belfast MP told attendees at Sunday's South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration in Mullaghbawn that the right to remember the dead "should apply without prejudice to every section of the society which we now live in".

Mr Finucane faced condemnation for attending the gathering as a keynote speaker, with new DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson accusing his fellow MP - whose father Pat Finucane was gunned down in front of him by loyalists in 1989 - of being a "hypocrite".

Speaking at Sunday's event, which commemorated members of the IRA's south Armagh unit killed during the Troubles, Mr Finucane said attendees were gathered "to stand in solidarity with the families to remember their loved ones, and to remember their sacrifices and contributions".

Read More

  • Sinn Féin's John Finucane accused of 'glorifying terrorists'
  • Finucane's planned commemoration attendance highly inappropriate, says minister

"Such basic and understandable human reactions to loss are no different here in south Armagh than in north Belfast, or indeed anywhere else," he said.

"And it is for those very basic human reasons that we should always cherish our right to remember those who are no longer with us. This of course is a right that should apply without prejudice to every section of the society which we now live in today."

The MP spoke of witnessing his father's murder when he was eight years-old.

"This loss, and the brutality of it, is something that will never leave me, just as such loss will never leave anyone who ever experienced such a thing.

"You will know that what followed for us as a family was a campaign for truth and justice. And over the subsequent decades we uncovered that the loyalist gunmen who entered my home, did so as part of a system alongside the police, the British army, MI5, and along with political cover and sanction, resulted in the deaths of so many, too many, for an incredibly long and sustained period of time.

"Throughout our campaign for truth and justice, I have been clear, repeatedly, that truth and justice is something which every person who has been impacted by our conflict deserves, and is entitled to, irrespective of whether those that inflicted the harm were loyalists, the British state or republicans."

He added: "Just as truth and justice applies equally to everyone, so too does the right to remember, and the right to commemorate."

Mr Finucane said commemorations for loyalists and security forces "take place right across our society and are regularly attended by civic and political representatives".

"And I will defend, without hesitation, their right to do so," he said.

The MP added: "Reconciliation and generosity should be embraced as the foundation for managing the constitutional change which is now fixed on the political horizon."

Ahead of Sunday's event, the DUP criticized Mr Finucane's attendance, despite having faced questions over its own members' attitudes to the commemoration of loyalist paramilitaries.

Last week saw the DUP claim a recent council candidate "inadvertently" liked a social media post for a commemoration parade for UVF commander Robert Seymour which is taking place next Sunday.

In January, Lisburn DUP councillor Paul Porter joined fellow Orange Order members in a parade to remember leading UDA man Jim Guiney, who was shot dead by the INLA in Dunmurry in 1998.

The DUP said in a statement at the time that "friends and loved ones of Jim Guiney have the right to remember his murder whilst at the same time being mindful or other victims who also grieve".

The parade in Derriaghy took place close to where the UDA killed 17-year-old Catholic Damien Walsh in 1993.

Separately the DUP has been urged to clarify alleged connections between its new north Belfast councillor Ian McLaughlin and the now-deleted WestBelfastUPRG Twitter account.

The UPRG is an advisory body connected to the UDA.

Speaking to the BBC's Sunday Politics show, Gavin Robinson said of Mr Finucane: "You cannot brandish your credentials as a victim one day and then tarnish the memory of victims and their loved ones the next."

Mr Robinson said the Mullaghbawn gathering was a "fun day to show respect for terrorists".