A FRESH political row has broken out over a republican parade held in Castlederg last year after Sinn Féin accused the DUP of using the issue of victims for electioneering purposes.
Over the weekend, DUP European candidate Diane Dodds issued a statement welcoming the decision of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) to review its original decision not to prosecute two stewards at the Tyrone Volunteers’ Day parade on August 11 last year.
However Castlederg councillor Ruairi McHugh has questioned the timing of the statement, pointing out that the review into the original decision was ordered two months ago.
The annual Sinn Féin event sparked controversy last summer after Castlederg was selected as the venue for 2013 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Seamus Harvey and Gerard McGlynn. The IRA members died when a bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely on August 10, 1973.
The parade passed off peacefully amid a protest and heavy police presence.
Two stewards of the parade were later interviewed by the PSNI, who sent a report to the PPS linked to alleged failures to comply with the Parades Commission determination. The PPS opted not to proceed with prosecutions, but that decision is now under review.
On Friday, statement from Diane Dodds welcomed that decision, stating, “When some people have been in court because they played hymns during a parade, it would be outrageous if no one was to face prosecution for the Castlederg parade.
Diane Dodds claimed a marshal was warned by a police officer about potential breaches of the Parades Commission determination, which banned paramilitary-style clothing and the display of flags, bannerettes or symbols relating to proscribed organisations.
The MEP claimed, “A banner depicting two masked gunmen, a banner depicting two firearms and drum-skins bearing the images of masked persons in paramilitary style clothing were used. This was a flagrant breach of the determination.”
She added, “Ahead of the SF parade, my party met with the police and urged them to have a fulsome evidence gathering team at the PIRA glorying parade. If sufficient evidence is not available, then the police have serious questions to answer.”
Speaking to the Tyrone Herald yesterday (Sunday), Cllr Ruairi McHugh said two stewards of the parade were notified in writing two months ago about the PPS decision.
“To me Diane Dodds is engaged in electioneering given that these two fellas were notified seven or eight weeks ago that the decision not to prosecute was going to be reviewed.
“It’s a clear case of the DUP truing to use the victims issue yet again for electioneering purposes and to counteract the emergence of the TUV in Castlederg, who are now running a candidate in local elections.”
Cllr McHugh continued, “As far as I’m aware, the stewards of the Tyrone Volunteers’ Day parade carried out what was expected of them on the day. They informed all bands and all participants of the Parades Commission ruling. In their view, they have no case to answer.
“Rather than the DUP engaging in electioneering about parades in Castlederg, it would be more fitting for them to encourage local Unionist representatives to engage with myself and other elected Sinn Féin representatives on the issue of numerous upcoming Loyalist parades, of which, there are upwards of 20 planned for Castlederg this year,” he added.