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IRA Moves Disputed Memorial

July 19, 2002

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DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ A monument honoring dead Irish Republican Army members will be moved from a border crossroads where the outlawed group once killed two Protestants, IRA supporters said Friday in another gesture to families of their victims.

Protestants welcomed the decision, which is meaningful in a Northern Ireland society driven by the fierce determination of Protestants and Catholics to defend symbols of their rival grievances, territorial claims and versions of reality.

One-sided memorials have been a key feature of this struggle. The IRA never has moved one in response to Protestant complaints before.

``This is about easing the pain and the grief of victims. I’m delighted at the decision,″ said Chris McGimpsey, a Protestant politician who campaigned against the monument’s location.

Sinn Fein, the IRA-linked party, said there was no deliberate connection between the monument’s removal and the IRA’s unprecedented apology this week for killing nearly 650 civilians since 1970.

The IRA in 1997 stopped its bloody campaign to unite the Protestant-majority north with the Irish Republic.

That list of largely forgotten IRA civilian victims includes Frederick Love, 64, and William Hassard, 59.

The workmates and friends were driving home Aug. 4, 1988, from construction work on the police base in the Northern Ireland village of Belleek, County Fermanagh.

When they reached nearby Slater’s Crossroads, beside the Irish border, IRA gunmen riddled their car with about 100 bullets _ part of a policy of killing civilians, mostly Protestants, who helped police keep their bases running.

Last March, local IRA supporters erected a black granite memorial at the spot, honoring three slain members of the IRA Fermanagh brigade: Antoine Mac Giolla Bhrighde, 27, and Ciaran Fleming, 25, both killed in 1984, and Joe McManus, 21, killed in 1992.

The area’s Protestants and moderate Catholics united in protest, and a few Protestant hard-liners tried to smash the stone with hammers, breaking part of the top off.

Northern Ireland’s fledgling Human Rights Commission, formed by the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, investigated whether the memorial’s location violated the rights of the Love and Hassard families.

``The monument was never intended to cause offense or further pain to anyone,″ said Sinn Fein representative Gerry McHugh, who received protest letters from Hassard’s four children.

He said the monument would be repaired and relocated somewhere else near Belleek, which is about 130 miles northwest of Dublin.

Marina Hassard, William’s daughter, was pleasantly surprised.

``We don’t really understand why others have to erect these provocative memorials, why for them a headstone in a cemetery is not enough. That IRA marker, on the very ground where my father and his friend were murdered, reopened all these wounds from 14 years ago,″ she said.

But relatives of the slain IRA men said they feel neglected in the debate. They defend the need for a memorial as a protest against a society that they say focuses on suffering caused by the IRA, but not endured by it.

``Nobody is ever going to apologize to my family,″ said Patricia McBride, whose brother, Antoine, is honored on the stone. ``For us the memorial isn’t about commemorating our loved ones. It is about a republican community that has been marginalized for so long standing up and saying, ’We are worth commemorating.‴

Her brother was killed Dec. 2, 1984, about 10 miles from Belleek when undercover British soldiers ambushed his five-member IRA unit as it planted a roadside bomb. An inquest ruled he was unarmed and shot in the back.

IRA comrade Fleming drowned in a river while fleeing the soldiers. The IRA killed a soldier in the same clash.

The third IRA member listed, McManus, died Feb. 6, 1992, while ambushing a Protestant veterinarian near Belleek. The veterinarian, a part-time member of the local British army regiment, was wounded but returned fire, killing McManus.

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