Republicans mar Northern Ireland's day for peace

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The Independent Online
Thousands of people gathered in towns and cities across Northern Ireland yesterday to demand an end to the killings which have plunged the province back into despair. But at some events all was not peace and harmony.

Several thousand people gathered outside Belfast's City Hall in the largest of the series of rallies for peace across Northern Ireland.

But even in the midst of calls for peace and unity there was disharmony and accusations that Sinn Fein tried to hijack the event. There was anger and dispute when republicans, led by a Sinn Fein councillor, joined the rally displaying anti-police and anti-loyalist banners. Despite calls from the organisers of the trade union rally, they refused to take down the banners.

Mo Mowlam, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, en-route from a visit to troops, dropped in at the rally. She walked around for a few moments but when she saw what was happening she returned to her car and was driven away.

The Unionist deputy lord mayor of Belfast, Jim Rodgers, who was a guest on the platform alongside the lord mayor, Alban Maginness of the SDLP, also left. And leaders of the Progressive Unionist Party, who had emerged from their office in City Hall, stormed off accusing Sinn Fein of hijacking the event.

David Ervine said: "There are many, many people who went there in a genuine sense of mourning and a sense of disgust at the killings and the absolute desire that they should stop. This was no place for anything being politically hijacked. These people will use anything, anything to manipulate for a political circumstance.

Frank Bunting, chairman of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, which organised the rally, received boos and cheers when he tried to have the republican banners removed. "Violence carried out from either community harms both. The force of argument has to replace the argument of force," he said.

In Londonderry, about 2,000 gathered outside the Guildhall where a one- minute silence was held as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives in the Troubles.

Keith Cradden, of the ICTU, told the crowd, including SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness: "It is significant that we meet on this anniversary of Bloody Sunday. We welcome the decision to call an investigation that we hope will tell the truth about events of that day."