More than 400 people attended a commemoration event in the City Cemetery on Saturday afternoon to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of IRA member James ‘Junior’ McDaid.
Mr McDaid was shot dead by British soldiers close to Ballyarnett on the border between Derry and Donegal on December 29, 1972.
The commemoration had been due to be held at the republican monument on the Racecourse Road in Shantallow but had to be rearranged because of a security alert in the area following the discovery of two suspicious objects. The devices later turned out to be hoaxes.
Speaking in the City Cemetery at the hastily rearranged event, veteran Derry republican Martin McGilloway, who chaired the commemoration said: “We will not be deterred.”
During the commemoration, John Kelly read a biography of Mr McDaid and a number of wreaths were laid at the Cúchulain monument. Ozzy Doherty laid a wreath on behalf of the republican movement while Margo McLaughlin laid a wreath of behalf of Derry Sinn Féin. Brian Boyle also laid a wreath from the Shantallow Monument Committee.
Tony Devine presented a statue to Patsy Brennan, Mr McDaid’s wife at the time of his death, on behalf of the Derry brigade. Robbie Davidson also presented her with a portrait of her late husband and Martina Anderson presented her with a bunch of flowers on behalf of Derry Sinn Féin.
Deputy First Minister (DFM) Martin McGuinness was the main speaker at the event and paid tribute to Mr McDaid. “The large turnout here today is a real testimony to how much the memory of Junior McDaid is loved and appreciated by the republican family in Derry,” he said.
“Junior was a bit older than the rest of us, maybe seven/eight years but he was a very assertive, very confident, very intelligent Irish republican.
“It is important to remember at commemorations like this it is a big thing for the republican family but it is an even bigger thing for his wife, parents, brothers and sisters or children. It was a huge loss for Patsy to lose Junior.
“1972 was a very, very difficult year in this city. For a number of years Derry had been in turmoil and that continued through 1972. Nine IRA volunteers lost their lives. It began on Bloody Sunday with the murder of Gerard Donaghey and ended with the murder of Junior on the Derry Donegal border on December 29, 1972. In between seven other volunteers were killed, some of them murdered too; others lost their lives in action against the British army.
“Many young people like Junior joined the republican movement, and joined the ranks of Oglaigh na h’Éireann. They did so because they had seen the activities of the unionist administration in Belfast, supported by British governments in London, and because they had seen the injustices and discrimination that had occurred since Ireland had been partitioned and continued right through the days of the civil rights movement.
“Junior was a very courageous and dedicated volunteer. From the moment he became engaged and active in the republican movement he was a very active volunteer and someone who was always prepared to take a risk and put his own life and liberty at risk,” he added.
Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to the other IRA members from Derry who were killed or imprisoned during the Troubles. “I am more conscious than most of the fact that IRA volunteers who gave their lives and liberty and made massive contributions to the continuing growth of Sinn Féin north and south,” he said.
He also said the conditions which led to young people becoming involved in the IRA no longer exist and referred to the recent controversy surrounding the loyalist street protests over the flying of the Union flag.
“Those young volunteers refused to accept Lord Craigavon’s words that this was a Protestant state and that this Stormont was a Protestant parliament.
“Just recently we had a senior unionist politician, in reaction to the actions of the British National Party, supported by anti-democratic elements, who can’t accept that Belfast is no longer a British city, making the claim on television that this is a unionist state.
“The next day I met with senior members of the DUP and told them very clearly that this is not a unionist state.
“It may have been at one time but it is not any longer.
“This is a place where republicans, nationalists, unionists and loyalists live and where many people from other parts of the world have come to make their home. The old days are gone and are not coming back and the sooner the unionists realise that the better,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said republicans are still influenced by the sacrifices made by their counterparts in the past.
“I first stood for election in 1982 and to the surprise of myself and many others within Irish republicanism, myself and four others were elected to the Prior assembly. We had no idea of the level of support we had out there at that time.
“That was now 30 years ago. In the course of the last three decades things have moved on and our support has grown immensely.
“ I make no apologies for my belief that it is absolutely important that we are at the heart of government on this island in pursuit of our goal, which remains a free and independent Ireland,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also paid tribute to the organisers of the commemoration for rearranging the event so quickly as a result of the security alert and thanked all those in attendance.
The event ended with a rendition of the National Anthem.