The walk out by some Protestant youths at a reconciliation event in Buncrana last weekend when Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson began to speak has been described as ‘totally unecessary’ by P.J. Hallinan, one of the organisers of the event. Mr Hallinan also suggested that the walk-out was pre-planned, and said a ‘News Letter’ headline on Wednesday ‘Youths Angered by IRA speech’ was ‘ridiculous’.
Speaking with the ‘Journal’ yesterday Mr. Hallinan, who has been active in reconciliation events for many years, said it was his understanding that some of those who accompanied the young people had organised the protest, not because of what was being said in Buncrana but against events in Belfast days earlier when the city’s Sinn Fein Lord Mayor, Niall O’Donnghaile backed out of presenting a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage girl because she was a member of the British Army cadets.
Mr. Hallinan said: “That’s my understanding of the background to this.
“I think some people were making a point, but it was unfortunate and unecessary. Martina (Anderson) said nothing that anyone who chose to listen could take offence. If they had stayed they would have got the full message where she again and again re-iterated, very strongly as well, that the only way forward was through reconciliation.”
When asked was it an IRA speech he replied: “That’s ridiculous. It’s way off the mark.”
The same response was given by Martina Anderson when contacted by the ‘Journal’: “I did not make ‘an IRA speech’. At no time did I even mention the IRA.
“The event was organised by the Inishowen Development Partnership and I participated in my capacity as an MLA.
“ As part of my introduction of who I am and the perspective from which I was coming I give a short outline of my background including the fact that I spent time in prison. At no time did I mention the IRA or attempt to ‘glorify’ the conflict from which we are all still emerging.
“In fact I spoke about the importance of winning the peace rather than waging war.
“When I began to speak, a small minority of people from the Unionist community staged what I believe was a predetermined walk-out. Others from Unionist communities remained for the entire presentation and I believe enjoyed the experience.
“The organisors of the event have been in touch with me to assure me that nothing that I said could be construed as offensive and that it was their understanding that rather than taking offence at anything that I had said that the walk-out was planned in protest against unrelated events in Belfast in recent days.
“If this is in fact the case then I find it very sad that those adults who were chaperoning the youth participants would have approved or even condoned such action.”
In Wednesday’s ‘News Letter’ East Belfast woman Gwen Ferguson, who attended the dinner as a member of the Cregagh Community Association, stated the group ‘was shocked and disgusted’ that Ms. Anderson had been invited to speak.
Ms Ferguson who has been involved in youth work for almost a decade said that while there were certain cross-community projects addressing prolitical differences the Inishowen Development Partnership Initiative had taken place in a ‘politically neutral’ environment.
She went on: “We knew nothing about Martina Anderson being there and making herself out to be a hero”
Ms Ferguson said her group felt they had ‘no option’ but to walk during the Junior Minister’s address,
P.J. Hallinan confirmed that Martina Anderson has visited Messines in Belgium as part of a reconciliation trip. It was here that 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division fought and died together in the First World War