21 August 1997 Edition

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Saoirse's dramatic relaunch

By Deirdre Feehan

There was a massive relaunch of the Saoirse campaign throughout the six counties this Wednesday. A series of rallies was organised to run simultaneously throughout towns and cities at 12 noon on Wednesday 20 August and prisoners from Maghaberry and Long Kesh took part in activities to coincide with events on the outside. Castlewellan, Coalisland, Cookstown, Armagh, Dunloy, Enniskillen, Dungiven, Lurgan, Newry, Omagh and Portadown all participated in rallies and events.

Over 100 children, friends and families of political prisoners attended a balloon launch in Belfast's city centre. The people marched from Cornmarket to the city centre calling for the release of political prisoners. Hundreds of balloons inscribed with the names of political prisoners were released by Bik Mc Farlane ex-political prisoner (OC of Long Kesh during the H Block hunger strikes of 1981 and an 1983 escapee), and Mary Wilkinson the mother of a POW.

Saoirse spokesperson and northern organiser Martin Meehan explained the importance of the prisoner issue at this time. He said, ``the peace process can only be enhanced by the release of POW's''.

In Carnlough on the Antrim coast over 50 supporters held cards calling for the release of political prisoners and balloons were also launched. Holidaymakers joined in with locals, ensuring a buoyant beginning.

In Enniskillen 200 helium filled balloons were released as part of the official re-launch of Saoirse Fearmanach.

In Derry more than 100 people attended the balloon launch at Waterloo Place where Councillor Mary Nelis urged the British government to demonstrate its good faith by the immediate transfer of all Irish prisoners from English jails and to indicate a commitment to address all prisoner-related matters. She said that there are men in England who are entering their twenty second year in prison and the objective of Saoirse is to reunite these men with their loved ones and the long term objective is the release of all political prisoners.

Sinn Féin National chair Mitchel McLaughlin gave his party's full support for the Saoirse campaign saying that it was an ``intergal part of any conflict resolution process,'' and that it was ``incumbent'' on the new British government to respond in a manner which would serve notice about building confidences within communities.

``Tony Blair and Marjorie Mowlam now have the opportunity to address the release of prisoners in an imaginative and humane fashion and I urge as many people as possible to become involved in the events which Saoirse will be organising.''

Dundalk picket for prisoners

Last Saturday in Market Square, Dundalk Sinn Féin organised a picket calling for the release of all Irish political prisoners.

Addressing the crowd, Councillor Seán Kenna said that republican prisoners in Ireland, England and the US were heartened by street demonstrations on their behalf and he urged more people to come out and support future `release the prisoners' demonstrators.

The next rally in Dundalk's Market Square will be on Thursday 4 September at 8.00pm.

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