PLANS by Sinn Féin to commemorate the death of an IRA man killed in 1989 have been described as “offensive” by the man’s family.
Today (Thursday) marks 25 years since James ‘Josie’ Connolly was killed when a bomb detonated prematurely on the outskirts of Drumquin.
A special commemoration to mark the anniversary, organised by Mr Connolly’s family, will be held at Aghyaran graveyard this Sunday.
Sinn Féin says it will also hold a memorial event, despite strong opposition from the Connolly family.
Josie Connolly’s brother, Kevin, said the family had made it clear to Sinn Féin that they did not want the anniversary used “for party political purposes”.
He said they simply wanted a family-led event “with no party-political speeches”.
A spokesperson for Sinn Féin said that they had taken the feelings of the family on board and scaled back plans for the commemoration.
They would however be pushing ahead with a “simple dignified ceremony”.
Calling on the party to abandon its commemoration plans, Kevin Connolly said, “We were contacted by the chairman of Sinn Féin in Castlederg on three occasions in the past week.
“We made it clear to him what our plans for Josie’s anniversary were and that Sinn Féin did not have our consent to organise anything for Josie. We told him we would be offended if an event was held against our wishes.
“We made it clear that everyone was welcome to attend our event on Sunday but Sinn Féin have ignored our request and have organised an event in opposition of ours.”
Mr Connolly claimed his brother’s name had previously been added to a roll of honour in Castlederg without the family’s consent.
He said it would be “offensive” of the party to ignore their wishes on the 25th anniversary of Josie’s death.
“This is not the first time that Sinn Féin have ignored our feelings.
“They placed Josie’s name on a Sinn Féin monument in Castlederg in August without asking permission when they were well aware that we didn’t want his memory used for party-political purposes.
“Anyone who lost a loved one in any circumstances will know that anniversaries are particularly difficult times.
“We find it offensive and disgusting for our wishes to be ignored.
“Sinn Féin seem to feel they own Josie and his memory and that they can treat his family with contempt.
“The Connolly family are immensely proud of Josie and the sacrifice he made for a united Ireland.
“We thank the people from all over Ireland who helped us since his death.
“We know that the republican people of this area will see through this attempt to ignore and intimidate us.”
Last night a Sinn Féin spokesperson said they realised the Connolly family did not agree with its current strategy but denied their motives were “party political”.
They said all republicans were entitled to honour a former comrade.
“Whilst we are mindful of their views we have had numerous representations from the republican community in Castlederg/Aghyaran and throughout Tyrone, including some of Josie’s comrades, who wanted a chance to commemorate and remember his sacrifice.
“It is with that in mind that we have organised a simple dignified ceremony which will offer people the chance to honour Josie on the day of his anniversary.
“This has not been organised for party political reasons – this is purely in memory of Josie and the sacrifice he gave as an IRA volunteer.
“We recognise and respect the fact that there are political differences between members of the Connolly family and the current Sinn Féin strategy.
“We feel that differences in political opinions should not stand in the way of remembering someone who gave their life in the struggle for Irish freedom.
“It was never our intention to cause any hurt or distress to the Connolly family.
“There is an accepted tradition among republicans that, regardless of any political difference, each be allowed to remember our patriot dead.”