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22 February 2001 Edition

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SDLP's war dead double standards

BY PEADAR WHELAN

Cast your mind back to November last, and remember the images of SDLP representatives standing at British War Memorials, wearing poppies and telling us they were commemorating the dead of the British army out of respect for ``the other tradition''.

A fine sentiment, but one that apparently doesn't extend to republicans.

Already this year, that same SDLP has twice objected to republicans remembering their dead. In Newry and Mourne, Sinn Féin wrote to the council asking it to donate a ``small piece of land'', at the junction of Monaghan Row and the Camloch Road to erect a memorial to the ten hunger strikers who died in 1981.

As it turned out, this land was Dept of the Environment owned, not council land therefore Sinn Féin councillor Davy Hyland asked that council representatives meet with the local Hunger Strike committee to find an alternative plot.

However the move was guillotined by unionist councillor Danny Kennedy, supported by the SDLP's Hugh Carr, who felt that the events of 1981 ``were too raw in people's minds''. One wonders whether those SDLP representatives who stood at British war memorials felt that the events of the last 30 years when the British army killed 400 nationalists ``were too raw in people's minds''.

Meanwhile, on Down Council, SDLP councillor Eamon O'Neill has interjected to block progress on rebuilding the republican memorial in Castlewellan.

The South Down Commemoration Committee intends to replace the existing monument, built on council land, with a better monument. However the SDLP has intervened and asked the Human Rights and the Equality Commission to examine the issue.

In a statement, Sinn Féin's Mick Murphy has accused SDLP councillor Eamon O'Neill of ``using this important human rights legislation as a smokescreen for his own agenda''.

Ironically, Down Council's Planning Service had granted planning permission for the rebuilding of the monument, a decision that has now been superceded by the SDLP intervention.

Speaking after he attended ceremonies to the British war dead in Derry two years ago, the then Derry Mayor Pat Ramsey said: ``I believe as we enter a new millennium it is crucial that both sides of the community reach out to each other in a bid to topple the traditional divides that have separated us for far too long.''

These are meaningless platitudes when set alongside the refusal of the SDLP to acknowledge our republican dead.
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