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28 August 2003 Edition

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Still demanding the right to vote

Historic Civil Rights march reenacted

The 35th Anniversary of the first Civil Rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon took place on Saturday and was marked appropriately, with another march. This time, the route was reversed to point out that the British government has reversed the dearly won right to vote by cancelling the Assembly elections.

The march commenced at Ann Street in Dungannon and went up through the Square, where the first march had been blocked from entering by the RUC. It then proceeded down the Dungannon Road and into the Square in Coalisland, where a rally took place and speakers included Sinn Féin's Francie Molloy and Barry McElduff, and Breandán Mac Cionnaith of the Garvaghy Road Residents' group.

Francie Molloy, now a Sinn Féin member of Dungannon council, said " I was a steward on the first march 35 years ago and I was delighted that so many took part on Saturday and that not even the rain could dampen their spirits.

"There were a lot of other events on over the weekend and it is holiday season. But despite this many people took part in the march, many of the original marchers, prisoners, councillors and many young people who were not even born when the first march took place, but who identified with the issues attended.

"I was disappointed at a number of speakers who were invited to speak but didn't even bother to reply. The only replies came from Martin McGuinness and Bernadette McAliskey, who were on holiday.

"Austin Currie was invited but never replied but then went on radio afterwards to criticise Sinn Féin; it's a pity that he didn't come and say what he had to say in person."

The theme of the march was around the right to vote. "The original was one man one vote, a demand won at a very high cost to the nationalist community," said Molloy, "and now we find the British government backtracking by cancelling the election, thus denying everyone the right to vote.

"I would like to thank everyone who took part. You have kept the issue alive and have once again sent a message to the British government that there can be no backtracking on the people's right to vote."

Francie reminded the crowd that the other issues in 1968 included gerrymandering and that today this is still an issue, as the British government is trying to disenfranchise voters by taking them off the register. "Don't allow this to happen again," he urged. "Make sure you fill in the registration form in September - Defend your right to vote and don't allow the Brits to backtrack by gerrymandering the future elections."

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