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Bloody Sunday, election, Irish, Ireland, British, Ulster, Unionist, Sinn Féin, SDLP, Ahern, Blair, Irish America

Love Ulster planning a cultural event for Dublin

(by Liam Clarke, Sunday Times)

Love Ulster campaigners are planning a big loyalist cultural event to be held in Dublin later this year. Organisers say their favoured location would be the Mansion House, official residence of Dublin's Lord Mayor and a frequent venue for republican and nationalist gatherings.

The event is part of a compromise deal between the Irish government and the campaigners that was brokered by Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP MP for Lagan Valley. As part of the deal loyalist victims of republican violence will meet the taoiseach and Dermot Ahern, foreign affairs minister, next month.

The cultural event replaces plans for a march down O'Connell Street that were abandoned after gardai warnings that dissident republicans planned to attack it.

In February 2006 a similar parade was abandoned after rioting broke out in Dublin city centre. About 1,000 people attacked police with bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs. Cars were set alight and several gardai were injured. More than 40 people were arrested for rioting, looting and public order offences.

"The gardai told us that last year there was nothing orchestrated in advance, it was spontaneous rioting, but this time they believe that there was a plan to attack us," said Willie Frazer, a representative of the loyalist victims group Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (Fair), and one of the organisers.

"We have shown flexibility by moving our event indoors and I hope that republicans can now reciprocate by showing tolerance towards us."

Donaldson, who attended last year's Love Ulster parade, said it had taken several weeks of shuttle diplomacy between Irish officials and Frazer to arrange the compromise.

"I was concerned that dissident republicans would once again attempt to undermine, through violence and public disorder, the objectives that the organisers of the march have set for themselves," said Donaldson.

"We were able to get agreement in principle that meetings would be held with the taoiseach and with representatives of the main political parties in the Irish parliament.

"The event in Dublin will showcase Ulster-Scots culture and give people in the south a better insight into the protestant community in the north. It will also give victims from places like South Armagh and the west of the province an opportunity to tell their story."

An events company is preparing a report on possible venues but both Donaldson and Frazer said the Mansion House would be high on their list because of its central location and place in history.

It has been the official residence of the Lord Mayor of Dublin since 1715. Its Round Room, which is often used for conferences, was the place where the first Dail met in 1919 and issued the Irish Declaration of Independence.

"The Mansion House would have a certain irony about it given that Sinn Féin has used it in the past for their propaganda," said Donaldson. "There could be no more appropriate place to bring out the truth of what republicans did to the Protestant community."

August 6, 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times on August 5, 2007.