Peace rallies sweep Northern Ireland in wake of killings

By staff writers
March 11, 2009

Over ten thousand people, including faith leaders, trade unionists and community groups, have attended a series of rallies across Northern Ireland to express opposition to the return of violence to the province.

The public demonstrations have condemned the murders of two soldiers and a policeman by dissident armed Republican groups.

Silent vigils and rallies took place in Belfast, Lisburn, Newry, Downpatrick and Londonderry.

A peace vigil will also be held in Craigavon, County Armagh, near the site where Constable Stephen Paul Carroll was shot dead on Monday 9 March 2009.

Two people are still being questioned over the murder of the 48-year-old officer.

There have been fears expressed that the attacks could reopen sectarian wounds and destabilize the fragile peace process in the disputed territory.

But people across Northern Irish society have been united in condemning the violence.

"The horror and shock shown by the people of Northern Ireland in response to the repugnant murders ... must be expressed publicly," said Peter Bunting, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which organized the vigils.

He added: "Those who long for a society at peace with itself and with others can express their solidarity with that most dignified form of protest: a wall of human silence."

Yesterday NI deputy minister Martin McGuinness, a leader of Sinn Féin, called the perpetrators of the attacks "traitors to the island of Ireland."

At his weekly public audience today, Pope Benedict XVI added his condemnation.

There are concerns about possible reprisals from Loyalist paramilitaries, but in Antrim, a Loyalist stronghold, people told reporters that a peaceful response is needed at this time.

The morning after the first attack, hundreds of worshippers from local Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland (Anglican), and Methodist churches congregated for prayer at the police cordon where the shooting took place.

Fr Tony Devlin of St Comgall's Roman Catholic Church, which is just yards from the barracks where the incident took place, explained: "People had three reactions. First of all, they were upset by the death and injury to the soldiers and civilians. Secondly, it made raw again some of the evil events of the past, and, thirdly, they were upset that it happened in our town."

He said that his parishioners were determined to show their outrage at violence and commitment to peace, but they wanted to offer it collectively with neighbours from other churches.

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