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Poster advertising this weekend's event. Diarmuid Pepper/
Sinn Féin

Tánaiste criticises Sinn Féin’s attendance at IRA commemoration event in south Armagh

Sinn Féin MP John Finucane is billed as the main speaker for the event in south Armagh, which will involve ‘music and kids entertainment’.

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has said Sinn Féin “needs to ask itself some hard questions” amid criticism of one of its MPs attending what is billed as the South Armagh Volunteers Commemoration this weekend.

Martin said Sinn Féin “cannot ride two horses” in terms of the legacy of the North’s troubled past and added that the party’s North Belfast MP John Finucane should not attend this weekend’s event.

John Finucane is billed as the main speaker for the event in Mullaghbawn in south Armagh, which will involve “music and kids entertainment”.

Victims’ representatives have said the event will commemorate the actions of the IRA during the Troubles.

The Tánaiste visited Belfast today for a series of meetings with political leaders and community groups.

Speaking in Belfast, Martin said: “I believe Sinn Féin need to ask themselves some hard questions in respect of legacy.

The Tánaiste added: “I think the idea of endeavouring to, in some shape or form, celebrate or glorify horrible deeds of the past is not the way forward.

“It’s something that Sinn Féin need to deal with and because some heinous crimes were carried out by units right across Northern Ireland by the Provisional IRA, which were not justifiable, which did a lot of harm to many victims.

“Sinn Féin needs to ask itself some hard questions and need to deal with this once and for all.

“They can’t ride two horses in relation to this, in terms of on the one hand looking legacy actions by the British Army or the RUC, but on the other hand not really doing anything to make sure that we have some degree of detail in terms of horrendous attacks carried out by the Provisional IRA.”

Speaking to UTV, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said: “We’ve had a very complicated and difficult past, and a lot of injury has been caused to many people.

“But I think it’s also really important that we fulfil the promise of the Good Friday Agreement and that it’s right and respectful to remember our dead.

“We need to keep looking towards the future and building that better future for us all, but at the same time we have to find ways to heal the wounds of the past and be respectful of the fact that we all have had a very different journey.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy claimed that the focus on the commemorative event was a DUP attempt at “distraction politics”.

“All parties here have attended commemorative events,” he said after meeting with the Tánaiste in Belfast.

“Every single party has attended commemorative events, be that British Army ones, be that in Dublin at the 1916 rising, all parties have been involved with commemorative events over the last 30 years.

“The particular event has now been going for 13 years perhaps, certainly well over a decade, it has been spoken at by MPs, by TDs, by ministers.

“We couldn’t as much as get a local photographer to come along to take pictures at it but the DUP have made an issue out of it, and then now apparently it’s an issue for the media as well.

“The fact is that I think what we’re in here is distraction politics.”

However, Ulster Unionist Party leader Doug Beattie described the commemoration event as “scandalous”.

“It’s not distraction politics,” he said after meeting Martin in Belfast.

“Everybody absolutely has a right to remember their dead, but they must do it in a respectful way. That respectful way should not be hurtful for those who have given the most, that is the victims who lost loved ones during the Troubles.

“And this commemoration, which is being run like a family fun day for south Armagh volunteers who murdered people purely because of their religion and for other reasons, I think it is scandalous.

“And there’s absolutely no way that Michelle O’Neill can say that this is down to people’s different perspectives of the troubled past.”

Beattie added: “John Finucane and his own family have suffered terribly because of the Troubles with the murder of his father and nobody should do anything that increases the hurt on John Finucane and his family over the murder of his father.

“But, if you take that as a principle, he should apply that also and the reality is turning up at this commemoration to be the guest speaker at something that’s been billed as a family fun day is going to hurt families and he should know better.”

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee met today as part of an inquiry into the “effectiveness of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement”.

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster told the committee that the attendance of senior members of Sinn Féin at “glorifying events” sends an alarming message to young people in the North.

“We’re still struggling with legacy today, and when I see people continuing to glorify some of the things that happened in the ’70s and ’80s today, it’s not just about the past, and it’s not just about remembering our dead,” Foster told the NI Affairs Committee.

“It is actually about sending a message to young people today, that what happened in the past was okay, and what happened in the past was somehow justified, and it wasn’t justified.

Foster also said she would be equally critical of a unionist politician attending an event commemorating a loyalist paramilitary group.

“I have said that very, very clearly, if a member of the DUP was going along to honour UVF volunteers, I would be equally as outraged as I am about a member of Sinn Féin going along to honour IRA volunteers, it is wrong.

“Now people will say, ‘oh, you met somebody from the UVF in the past’. Yes, I also met somebody from the IRA in the past – doesn’t mean that I’m glorifying what they did.”

-With additional reporting from Diarmuid Pepper


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