Previously Ms. Anderson had a less than successful outing as Unionist Outreach Officer (or successful dependent on what one feels SF were trying to achieve). On this occasion she was present at cross-a border “reconciliation” event held in the Gateway Hotel in Co. Donegal. Around 140 young people were attending the dinner on Saturday night as part of a year-long cross-border, cross-community project involved various youth and community groups coming together to explore the joint sacrifice of the Irish and Ulster divisions during the First World War.
According to east Belfast woman Gwen Ferguson, who attended Saturday’s dinner as a member of the Cregagh Community Association (CCA) in east Belfast, the group was “shocked and disgusted” that Ms Anderson had been invited to speak.
Ms Ferguson has been involved in youth work for eight years and said that while there are certain cross-community projects addressing political differences, the Inishowen Development Partnership initiative had taken place in a “politically neutral” environment.
“At this type of event this is totally unacceptable. There were groups there from the Shankill, Tullycarnet, Cregagh and Braniel and we knew nothing about Martina Anderson being there and making herself out to be a hero,” Ms Ferguson said.
“It’s a big thing within our communities to get parents to agree to their children taking part in cross-border events.
“We have to justify taking the young people along so this speech was totally out of order.”
The Inishowen Development Partnership had labelled the initiative as looking at “Ireland’s experience in World War One, and the brotherhood that arose between Irishmen on the Western Front to forge new relationships and new hope for our common future”.
Ms Ferguson said her whole party felt they had no option but to walk out during the junior minister’s address: “The groups got on so well so it would be a shame if this destroyed everything. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The whole project has been all about the history of the Irish and Ulster soldiers who fought in the war, and nothing else.
“She started off speaking in Irish and then started going on about how proud she was to be a republican and that she had served time in jail.
“That ended up causing a divide and ruined the whole night for the kids. I even had a youth leader from west Belfast coming up to me saying it was totally inappropriate,”
The Community Relations Council told the News Letter that it would be “surprising for a speaker of such a political nature to suddenly use the platform to walk over a fairly sensitive area”, unless pre-arranged with all concerned.
Sinn Fein have been unrepentant, a spokesperson stating:
“Unionist/loyalist groups need to realise that if they are going to participate in these cross-community projects they are going to hear opinions and accounts of the conflict that they may not like or agree with…. if they expect to hear republicans apologise for their past or to stop being republicans then they are going to be disappointed.”