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19 October 2006 Edition

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Demilitarisation - Ógra activists claim victory

Barracks reclaimed in Omagh

Ógra Shinn Féin last weekend claimed back Omagh British Army base by erecting an Irish national flag at its front entrance. The action was part of a demilitarisation protest held at the base during the Ógra Shinn Féin National Demilitarisation Weekend, which took place in the Omagh area.

Young people from across Ireland and representatives from the Troops Out Movement, the Wolfe Tone Society and the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in Britain travelled for the weekend. It was the fifth annual demilitarisation protest and according to Barry McNally, Ógra Chairperson in West Tyrone, it was held to "claim victory on the issue of British demilitarisation" in the County Tyrone town.

On Friday evening, a Women in Struggle event heard local resident Póilín Quinn speak of her contribution to the freedom struggle and her experiences in prison for her political beliefs.

On Saturday, the inaugural Volunteer Dermot Crowley Memorial Lecture was delivered by a close friend and comrade of Dermot's, Tyrone hunger striker Tommy McKearney. He spoke of knowing Dermot, who could have so easily sat idly by in Cork, but who came to the North to take part in the freedom struggle.

A panel discussion on the 1981 hunger strike included representatives of the SLP, Socialist Youth, SDLP Youth and Ógra Shinn Féin.

Good riddance to British Army

Later, Ógra Shinn Féin delegates converged at the entrance to the British Army base in Omagh and erected a Tricolour, claiming back the land in the name of the Irish Republic. Chants of "Slán Abhaile" were heard as Ógra activists bade good riddance to the British Army.

The republican tour of West Tyrone saw conference delegates visit the spot on the Gortin Road where three IRA volunteers were killed in 1973, the site of the Drumnakilly ambush in 1988, the demilitarised site of the joint British Army/RUC base in Carrickmore, the Garden of Remembrance, also in Carrickmore, and a visit to the graveside and homes of two of the Drumnakilly martyrs: Gerard and Martin Harte.

On Sunday, the Ógra delegation met up in the Strathroy estate to take part in a parade to mark the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of the 1981 hunger strike. The main speaker was Sinn Féin West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty.

Following this, the parade continued around Strathroy, and a newly erected monument to the 1981 hunger strikers was unveiled at the entrance to the estate.

Victory

Speaking after the Ógra Shinn Féin weekend, local chairperson Barry McNally said: "I would like to thank everyone who travelled to Omagh this week to claim their victory on British demilitarisation. For five years we have asked people to help us raise the issue and now they are seeing the fruits of their commitment. We also held this weekend to remember the conclusion of the 1981 hunger strike, 25 years ago this week. We held a parade in Strathroy with this purpose and it was a very successful event. However, in the run up to this weekend, elements in the DUP were trying to raise tensions with our decision to march in this area, even though it is a 100% republican area. There is no contention.

However, I would ask the DUP what is their stance in relation to contentious marches in places like Newtownstewart and Castlederg.

Indeed, the South Down DUP flute band have breached Parades Commission determinations on several occasions, including playing the sash at the entrance to Ferguson Crescent on Saturday, 16 September, when the Parades Commission did not permit this. The DUP should put their own house in order before trying to lecture others in relation to parades."

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