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BANNER DISPUTE

15 May 2019

BANNERS expressing strong support for ‘Soldier F’, who is facing murder charges linked to Bloody Sunday, caused controversy when they appeared prominently displayed above Jingler’s Bridge last Saturday.

The two banners, erected by unknown individuals, were taken down within 24 hours, only to be replaced at each street corner by Parachute Regiment flags and Union flags. 

Similar messages of support were displayed in Tandragee and Markethill, as part of what appears to have been an orchestrated campaign. 

Parachute flags were also erected in Seapatrick, Rathfriland and Moneyslane.

The wording on the banner was very defiant: “Banbridge opposes the witch hunt against British veterans. No apologies, no surrender.”

The army veteran, whose identity has not been revealed, is to be prosecuted for the alleged murders of James Wray and William McKinney. 

He has also been charged with four alleged attempted murders. 

Predictably, nationalist and unionist representatives viewed the ‘banner stunt’ in very different lights. 

Sinn Féin MLA, John O’Dowd said: “These banners, proclaiming support for a murder suspect of innocent civilians on the streets of Derry, are not appropriate.

“The victims of Bloody Sunday deserve the truth, just as much as any victim of the conflict. The rate at which these banners are appearing is a reflection of the failure of authorities to act.

“The silence of the PSNI, Roads Service and political unionism is deafening. These banners should be removed immediately.”

UUP councillor Glenn Barr, however, argued that anybody had a right to express support for someone who hasn’t as yet been convicted: “I am disappointed but not surprised that Sinn Féin has condemned the ‘support soldier F’ banner in Banbridge.

“We live in a society which cherishes the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. 

“If people wish to support the accused during the trial, that is their right. Sinn Féin appears to be assuming soldier F’s guilt, which is both wrong and undermines faith in the integrity and impartiality of the justice system.

“Moreover, there are very legitimate concerns about the imbalance in our approach to dealing with the past.

“Investigations and prosecutions are tilted heavily towards servants of the state and appear to largely overlook the actions of terrorists, particularly republican terrorists, who were responsible for 60% of all deaths during the Troubles.

“The people in Banbridge have not forgotten that it was republicans on November 18, 1989 who murdered three young Parachute regiment soldiers some three miles from Rathfriland – Stephen Wilson (23), Donald Macaulay (20) and Matthew Marshall (21), or indeed blew Banbridge town to smithereens by planting bombs in the town.

“Given the amount of commemorations for convicted terrorists which many Sinn Féin elected members seem perfectly happy to attend and participate in, they really are in no position to lecture anyone else on the presumed guilt or innocence of anyone.”

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