Northern Ireland

Controversial republican parade passes without incident in Castlederg

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Media captionThe republican march was met with a protest demonstration by unionists and victims of the IRA

A controversial republican parade in Castlederg, County Tyrone has passed off without major incident.

The Tyrone Volunteers Day Parade commemorated republicans who died during the Troubles, including two IRA men killed by their own bomb.

Several hundred bandsmen and republican supporters took part in the march.

Hundreds of protesters, including some family members of IRA murder victims, staged a counter-demonstration against the parade.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers had urged organisers to call off the march, saying it was "causing great hurt" to victims of terrorism.

The commemoration angered many unionists and several leading politicians had called on Ms Villiers to ban the parade.

'Glorify terrorism'

A heavy police presence was in place in the town ahead of both the parade and the protest, after 56 officers were injured during a loyalist demonstration against a republican parade in Belfast on Friday evening.

The Castlederg parade, which was supported by Sinn Féin, began after 15:00 BST on Sunday and supporters clapped as it moved off.

Image caption Several hundred bandsmen and supporters took in the Castlederg march

The counter-demonstration was staged by the Derg Valley Victims Voice, who said the march would glorify terrorism and traumatise families affected by IRA violence.

The protesters held banners opposing the commemoration and some of them shouted 'disgrace' as the march began.

At one stage, a man whose relative had been killed by the IRA managed to break through the line to vent his anger, but was stopped by stewards.

The Parades Commission had placed restrictions on the march, which the parade organisers had already re-routed away from the town's war memorial.

At a newly built republican memorial in Castlederg, the names of dead republicans were read out to the marchers.

They included the names of the two IRA men, who died when the bomb they were transporting exploded prematurely in 1973.

'Hierarchy of victims'

Sinn Féin North Belfast MLA, Gerry Kelly, addressed the marchers, criticising what he called the "media maelstrom of attacks" ahead of the event.

Mr Kelly said: "No unionist MLA, councillor, MP or minister, no loyalist paramilitary or loyal order spokesperson - no matter how loud they shout, will prevent me or any other republican honouring our comrades who gave their lives in the struggle for Irish freedom and equality."

He added that the centre of Castlederg was supposed to be a "shared space" and almost 20 unionist marches had taken place in the town so far this year.

"Yet when a single republican commemoration parade is organised we are confronted with a deluge of orchestrated complaints.

"In effect we are being told that it is right for unionism to remember their British dead without interference but how dare republicans remember their Irish dead in the same way."

Mr Kelly said there must not be "a hierarchy of victims which would discriminate against republicans and nationalists not just in life, but in death also".

'Intense provocation'

The Ulster Unionist representatives for the area, Ross and Derek Hussey, were among those attending the counter-demonstration.

Ross Hussey said: "In the face of intense provocation from apologists for murder, the families maintained their dignity and ensured that the memories of their loved ones will always rise above that of the bombers and those that celebrate murderers."

He added: "Despite Sinn Féin dancing on the graves of IRA victims, the people of Castlederg sent out a strong message today that they will not be faced down by Sinn Féin.

"As for Sinn Fein themselves, I don`t think they have any shame - celebrating Irish republican bombers on the same day as families gather in Omagh to remember their loved ones, murdered by Irish republican bombers in that town 15 years ago"

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