Sunday 20 October 2019

Austin Stack: 'Politicians must follow up their condemnation with new laws'


The Colour Party marches along O’Connell Street during the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
The Colour Party marches along O’Connell Street during the Saoradh Easter Commemoration in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Austin Stack

On Easter Saturday, the main thoroughfare of our capital city was allowed to be used to stage a military-style parade. Participants wore combat fatigues which had emblazoned on the sleeve our national flag. Only one brave individual protested, while gardaí looked on at a distance.

When public revulsion at this parade became apparent, we witnessed the avalanche of PR-driven statements from the Taoiseach and Government ministers, who tried to outdo one another in their condemnation of the parade. These condemnations will be little solace to the family and friends of journalist Lyra McKee.

What we witnessed on Saturday has become quite commonplace. This should concern all right-thinking democrats on several fronts. Firstly, these parades are used essentially to glorify 30 years of terrorist atrocities which left many widows, orphans and injured on this island. Many of those affected by the Troubles include the families of innocent security force personnel.

This trauma does not go away easily. When people like me see these marches, or if I were to inadvertently walk into one, it takes its toll and has the effect of re-traumatising, especially when I see gardaí looking on.

This State has bent over backwards to bring peace to our island and, in doing so, has turned a blind eye to events like last Saturday - but in doing so it has done a grave disservice to the victims of terrorism.

Secondly, I take great issue with national emblems, such as our flag, and national historic places such as the GPO and Garden of Remembrance being used in these parades. The State should never allow individuals to parade in army fatigues bearing the national flag as if they had some legitimate right to do so. This has the effect of gravely dishonouring the brave men and women who serve in its armed forces.

While I am an advocate of free assembly, which is a right of every citizen, I have constantly made the case that places of historic national importance should not be allowed to be used for propaganda by any group, especially those who would try to justify nearly 1,300 murders, countless injured and disappeared.

Sites such as these and their environs should be exclusion zones and only allowed for official State parades or functions.

Likewise, we need to ensure more rigorous control of the national flag and how it is used. Groups not affiliated to the State in military-style uniforms should not be allowed to wear or parade the national flag.

Maybe the best way this State can honour Lyra McKee - as well as other victims of the Troubles - is by not sitting idly by any more. The politicians who were quick to condemn last Saturday's parade now must act with legislation, or their condemnations will be seen as political opportunism. Over to you, Taoiseach.

Justice campaigner Austin Stack is the son of prison officer Brian Stack, who was murdered by the IRA in the 1980s

Irish Independent

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