Category: Archive

Thousands rally against violence

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST – Several thousand people, including trade union members, politicians, church leaders and the general public took part in a rally last Friday against sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

The demonstration, at Belfast City Hall, was called in response to the murder of a Catholic teenager, Gerald Lawlor, almost two weeks ago but speakers also condemned the more recent murder by dissident republicans of David Caldwell, a Protestant construction worker in Co. Derry.

In Derry city, trade unionists protested on Monday, including Caldwell’s daughter Linda, who asked the loyalist Red Hand Defenders, who had threatened revenge for her father’s murder, “What part of ‘no retaliation’ do you not understand?”

“You are not doing this in my family’s name. You are just using my father’s death to score political points, don’t bring us into it, my family doesn’t want any other to suffer as we are doing.”

Addressing the rally, Belfast Lord Mayor, Alex Maskey, said that to do nothing was not an option for the council.

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“This is a day when we say to those engaged in sectarianism, please stop,” he said.

Bob Gourley, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland Committee chairman also addressed the crowds.

“The evil purveyors of bigotry have declared war on us all and wished to ensure that the legacy of hatred continued.”

He told of how David Caldwell’s last words before he died were of concern for his wife, Mavis, and workmates, warning them to be careful after a bomb disguised as a lunchbox blew up in his face.

There was a heavy emphasis in Belfast on the churches, with leaders of all four main churches reading from the Bible and leading prayers, culminating in the Lord’s prayer. There was no political sniping from the platform, with all speakers condemning violence unreservedly.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan said he hoped the rally would show the victims of violence that the community supported them.

“I also hope it sends out a message to those who continue to prosecute violence that they may be able to hurt us but they will never divide us.”

Despite the show of solidarity, numbers were down from the massive anti-sectarianism rally staged in the city in January after Catholic postman, Daniel McColgan was murdered, perhaps reflecting dismay and despair that the violence is continuing.

Michael McGimpsey, Ulster Unionist assemblyman, said the demonstration would have an impact.

“They set a mood within society and it’s vital we keep reiterating this message that we won’t tolerate this violence.”

Earlier, however, he had sown a note of discord by issuing a press release saying “What should also be abundantly clear as people gather across Northern Ireland, is that Sinn Fein are attempting to dress themselves up as somehow ‘anti-sectarian.'”

“They must not be allowed to seize the moral high ground over this issue. The Provisionals have been responsible for the bombing of mainly Protestant town centers, shooting Protestant farmers, denying Protestant cultural expression and shooting security force members, who just happen to be Protestant.

“Sectarianism is a cancer which has affected all levels of society and both sides of the divide. But republicans must face the fact that they as much as anyone else have the blood of thirty years of chaos on their hands.”

David Ervine, leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force-linked PUP, described the rally as a “small but necessary step.”

Only the anti-Agreement DUP boycotted the rally, accusing Sinn Fein of hypocrisy because of allegations the IRA remains active. They did support the rally in Derry against the murder of David Caldwell, however, as this had been called by the trade unions and not by the Sinn Fein mayor of Belfast.

SDLP assembly member for East Derry, John Dallat, said, “The DUP’s decision not to attend the demonstration of community disgust at the murder of Gerard Lawlor demonstrated a political bankruptcy and a lack of capacity to contribute anything positive to the peace process.”

“They should rethink their tactics and support the institutions and process voted for by the people, North and South. Over many difficult years the trade union movement has so much to curtail the activities of bigots who thrive on sectarianism and hatred.”

“I hope that the movement will continue to get the support of all right-thinking people in both communities who must realize that the common theme running through the minds of those who commit murder and mayhem is the ending of democracy and the political institutions for their own evil ends.”

Speaking after a cross-party meeting with the Stormont security minister, Des Brown, to discuss threats and intimidation, Alex Attwood of the SDLP said: “The meeting was a useful first step. Many further steps are required to ensure that those who are living under threat and terror are reassured.”

“The SDLP argued that paramilitary groups needed to desist from their activities to build confidence at interface areas. Their leadership, and at this time the UFF/UDA leadership, need to be pursued and prosecuted.”

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