Thousands take to streets of Omagh on peace march in officer's honour

 

THOUSANDS OF people gathered in Omagh, Co Tyrone, yesterday for a peace march a week after the murder of PSNI constable Ronan Kerr in the town.

The event was organised through Facebook by 29-year-old Gareth McElduff from Omagh, who works as a fundraising manager for a cancer charity.

Two PSNI officers speaking after the event said they were impressed with the show of solidarity for their murdered colleague.

“It’s bad to have to be back at this type of thing again,” said the older of the two, but pointing to the dispersing crowd he added, “it’s good to see this”.

The security company marshalling events figured at a crowd of between 7,000 and 10,000.

Many of the marchers held posters of Ronan Kerr, bearing the words “Not in My Name”. Hundreds of people also wore white ribbons in another symbolic demonstration of their horror at the fatal bombing.

At the funeral last week in his home town of Beragh in Co Tyrone local people, politicians, police officers and the GAA demonstrated their detestation at the killing. Yesterday the ordinary people of Omagh showed their repugnance. A number of the families who lost loved ones or were injured in the Real IRA Omagh bombing of 1998 were there, including Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was killed in the attack in which 29 people died, including a woman pregnant with twins.

What was striking also was the number of young people who paraded through the town. This was a new era of peace protest.

Mr McElduff explained how he used Facebook to organise the march. “It was done in the early hours of [last] Sunday morning, just out of anger at what happened to Ronan.

“When I checked it that Sunday night there were nearly 1,000 people saying they would attend. There was no going back after that.”

Local Sinn Féin MP Pat Doherty, party colleague Barry McElduff, Alliance Minister of Justice David Ford and local SDLP representative Joe Byrne were present yesterday. But it wasn’t an occasion for political speeches. On the platform in the car park the local cross-community youth choir, formed after the Omagh bombing, sang U2’s Love Rescue Me. There was then a minute’s silence for Ronan Kerr, followed by a rendition of We Shall Overcome.

“The walk and the number of people who turned up said everything that needed to be said,” said Mr McElduff.

Separately, Gerry Adams, on his blog Léargas, said he was prepared to listen to the dissidents. He repeated that the murder was “futile” and that ordinary republicans were “seething with anger” at the killing.

“I am prepared to meet you anywhere at any time to listen to what you have to say and to tell you that there is now a democratic peaceful way to unite our people and our country on the basis of equality,” he wrote.

“Your achievement has been to unite us all in opposition to your actions. It is time to end these futile attacks on the peace process.”

To those who might support the dissidents Mr Adams added: “Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are helping the IRA. The war is over. The IRA is gone . . . When a democratic and peaceful alternative to armed struggle was created the IRA left the stage.”

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also told the BBC yesterday that the community must “hold steady” against the dissident threat.

PSNI detectives were last night continuing to question three men in connection with the suspected dissident republican murder of Constable Kerr.

On Friday police were given five more days to question a 26-year-old man arrested in Scotland on Wednesday, and a 40-year-old man arrested near Omagh on Thursday. Police have also been given more five days to question a 33-year-old man who was arrested in Omagh on Friday.