A Co Down man whose father was murdered by the IRA has hit out at plans for a hunger strike commemoration event in Castlewellan, describing it as “sick” and “an insult to victims”.
Sammy Heenan was orphaned at 12-years-old when his father was shot twice in the head at point-blank range by a lone gunman outside his Legananny home in 1985.
Mr Heenan said he is “disgusted” by plans to hold a National Hunger Strike Commemoration in Castlewellan on August 5, saying it will cause further trauma and hurt to himself and other innocent victims.
The controversial event, hosted by South Down Sinn Fein, will mark the 37th anniversary of the hunger strikes in the Maze Prison and is due to be addressed by party president Mary Lou McDonald TD.
“It was only six miles north of Castlewellan that my father was murdered by the South Down Command of the Provisional IRA,” Mr Heenan explained.
“This event will glorify terror and eulogise these supposedly great people who were cut from the same cloth as those who walked up to my father and murdered him.
“The hunger strikers and that time is now being projected to the outside world as some form of legitimate struggle against oppression, but this is all part of the republican revisionist agenda and mythology to elevate these people as freedom fighters. But once you remove this facade and misty-eyed romanticism you are left with terrorists who were in prison for very serious crimes against society.”
The 46-year-old added: “This thing in Castlewellan is an insult to the many victims across South Down – a constituency where 70 innocent people were murdered by IRA terrorists.
“It exposes the Sinn Fein mantra of truth, integrity and respect. Sinn Fein demand that for themselves, but they cannot afford it to the victims of the IRA in that area.
“This commemoration should not be taking place, it just reinforces the trauma and hurt experienced by so many victims.”
The planned commemoration has also been condemned by TUV leader Jim Allister MLA and South Down UUP representative Alan Lewis.
“The upcoming IRA commemoration in Castlewellan starkly illustrates the fact republicans, far from changing and repudiating their bloody past, are intent on celebrating and lionising terrorists. They want to indoctrinate the upcoming generation,” Mr Allister said.
“South Down is an area which suffered grievously at the hands of the Provisional movement, yet Sinn Fein are intent on subjecting them to this terror-fest.”
Branding the event “grotesque” and urging South Down Sinn Fein to rethink its plans, Mr Lewis said: “I call on the organisers to reflect upon the feelings of innocent victims. Fifty-five per cent of Troubles-related killings within South Down were attributed to the Provisional IRA. Such commemorations belong in the past.
“Surely republicans are aware that many local victims will be retraumatised by such an event. It seems that equality and respect are political buzzwords adapted as part of the Trojan horse charm offensive, but the reality is very different. What we are seeing in Castlewellan is the true face of republicanism, the glorification of unrepentant terrorism.”
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said everyone should respect people’s right to “remember their dead with dignity and respect”.