SF members heckle trade unionists as 25,000 people march in Dublin

 

IRISH people would not allow the bonds of friendship which have developed across the Border over the past 18 months to be destroyed by "a few faceless terrorists", the general secretary of the ICTU, Mr Peter Cassells, told the peace rally in Dublin.

More than 25,000 people attended yesterday's demonstration, which was one of the largest in the capital for many years. At one point, the front of the march was crossing O'Connell Bridge, while the rear had yet to leave the starting point in Parnell Square.

A small number of Sinn Fein members participated, some of them carrying posters calling for an immediate start to all party negotiations. Others carried memorial notices for "Volunteer Ed O'Brien", who was killed by his own bomb in London last week. One poster referred to him as a "peace activist".

Addressing the rally in CollegeGreen, Mr Cassells welcomed those Sinn Fein members who condemned IRA violence. But he condemned "people who believed they could hijack the peace, and distort it for their own ends." To them, "I say the Irish people will not tolerate anyone carrying a peace symbol in one hand and a piece of Semtex in the other."

Mr Cassells said he was "sickened" to hear suggestions that "somehow planting bombs in London was better than planting them in Dublin or Belfast".

"To the people of London, Manchester and other British cities, our message is clear; there is no way we will tolerate any violence on your streets."

Hecklers briefly interrupted some of the speeches made by trade unionists and peace organisers. Sinn Fein members shouted "no more concessions" and "Where were you for the past 18 months?". Speakers appealed to the media to ignore the heckling, which was drowned out by booing from demonstrators.

The march, which was organised by STOP 96 (Solidarity To Organise Peace), was attended by representatives of all the main political parties. The Fianna Fail leader, Mr Bertie Ahern, told journalists that the "lost opportunities of 1995" now had to be made up for. "The message from this march," he said, "is that people simply want to get on with their lives without violence."

There was also a heavy turn out from the diplomatic corps. The rally was addressed by the US ambassador, Mrs Jean Kennedy Smith.

Along with the white ribbons worn by most marchers, there were blue ribbons, worn by the Mothers for Peace group, which is campaigning on behalf of "the disappeared" in the Northern conflict.

Mr Gordon Walker, of the No More Violence campaign, said that, after generations of violence, ordinary people were now "taking ownership" of the peace. Mr Walker, from Bangor, Co Down, who with his wife collected 500,000 "postcards for peace" within a week, told the rally that "the day of the men of violence is past".

An employee of Dunnes Stores, Ms Rhonda Donaghy, said that those who planted bombs in crowded city centres were putting the lives of ordinary people at risk, including shopworkers, who were the most vulnerable.