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New MP’s first speech at hunger strike event criticised

Órfhlaith Begley speaking at the annual hunger strike commemoration in Dromore on Saturday evening in her first event as West Tyrone MP.

Sinn Féin’s Órfhlatih Begley has been accused of “hypocrisy” by unionists after delivering her first public address as West Tyrone MP at a hunger strike commemoration in Dromore on Saturday.

Held to mark the 37th anniversary of the death of IRA hunger striker and former Fermanagh and South Tyrone MP Bobby Sands, Saturday’s march saw a number of bands walk from St Patrick’s Hall to a memorial stone in Church Street, Dromore.

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Just one day after she was elected as West Tyrone’s first female MP with 16,346 votes, the Carrickmore woman was invited to deliver the main oration at the Sinn Féin organised annual commemoration.

In her victory speech inside Omagh Leisure Complex during the early hours of Friday morning, Órfhlaith Begley spoke of building bridges with unionism and of learning lessons following the resignation of Barry McElduff.

“What I’m about is building for the future, reaching out to unionism and building bridges between our communities so that we can live in a shared and reconciled future together,” she said.

However the new MP struck a somewhat different tone in a rousing speech delivered in Dromore just under two days later, where she spoke of drawing her inspiration from the seven IRA and three INLA men who died in the 1981 hunger strike.

“The sacrifice and the courage of the 1981 hunger strike has inspired me to continue on the journey for Irish freedom,” she told those gathered. The hunger strikers and everything they represent continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

Listing the names of all ten alongside some of the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, she continued, “They are the people who set the moral compass for the rest of us to aspire to today.

“I am spurred on by their heroism… We will live in the Irish Republic that our comrades sacrificed their liberty and their lives for the in H-Blocks,” she said before concluding her speech with the republican epithet “tiocfaidh ár lá”.

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CRITICISM

The speech has been branded “totally disgraceful” by DUP MLA Tom Buchanan, who claimed, “Sinn Féin can talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. They can’t help harking back to the old ways by commemorating IRA killers.

“During and immediately after the election, Sinn Féin tried hard to give the impression that it was reaching out to unionists and was less hostile to the unionist community,” he said. “But actions speak louder than words.

“It is no surprise to me and they should just drop the pretence of feigning to be something they are not. The unionist community can see through their hypocrisy.”

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