A controversial IRA commemoration this weekend would be "dignified and lawful", Martin McGuinness has said. The parade is to go ahead tomorrow in defiance of appeals by unionists, victims' representatives and Northern Secretary Theresa Villiers.
However, Sinn Féin said a planned counter demonstration against a “feeder” march by Apprentice Boys of Derry also in Castlederg, today, in advance of the main march in Derry will not now go ahead.
Ms Villiers said she did not have the power to ban the republican Tyrone Volunteers Day parade. Speaking after meeting a delegation from Stormont Minister for Industry Arlene Foster and unionist victims' group Derg Valley Victims Voice, Ms Villiers described the planned parade as "deeply insensitive".
The controversy has intensified passions after a summer of disputed parades and violence in north and east Belfast. Republicans held a parade through Belfast last night which was opposed by four loyalist demonstrations at various points. The DUP also pressed the PSNI chief constable to call on the Northern Secretary to ban the event.
Eight PSNI officers were injured on Thursday night following trouble at an anti-internment bonfire in the lower Falls area. The bonfire, to commemorate the introduction of detention without trial on August 9th 1971, has been a feature of republican areas in the city ever since. Sinn Féin has said such bonfires “now need to be left in the past”.
Mr McGuinness insisted republicans in Tyrone should be allowed to commemorate local IRA men who died during the Troubles.
Addressing unionist protests he added: “I have tremendous sympathy for all victims of the conflict and there have been victims on all sides. I don’t have any reason to believe that Sunday will not be peaceful: it’s not a celebration, it’s an act of remembrance.”
Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty described the decision to call off the demonstration against the Apprentice Boys as "a genuine attempt to de-escalate tensions in the town". He accused unionist representatives of a "hysterical reaction" and "whipping up sectarian tensions".
“It seems the town centre is acceptable for loyalist parades but not for the majority community in the town.”
Addressing remarks by Mr McGuinness, DUP Assembly member Tom Buchanan said: "Martin McGuinness also needs to explain the difference between the car bombers in Omagh and the car bombers in Castlederg. Why will his party stand against the Omagh bomb terrorists but stand with the Castlederg bombers?"
Mrs Foster said her heart went out to the families of IRA victims in the town. “They wish this event had never raised its head. I understand their frustration and anger but . . . rather than come to the town in numbers, I ask that supporters simply and quietly remember the families in prayer.”