Organisers of the European Day for Victims of Terrorism event at Stormont today have had to lay on two meetings to cope with a spike in demand.
The date was marked as an annual day of remembrance across Europe in the wake of the Madrid train bombings of 2004 which claimed almost 200 lives and injured around 2,000.
The Stormont event is to be held in the Senate Chamber as usual, but as it only seats around 150, a spike in demand has left organisers having to lay on a second event to take place immediately after the first this morning.
A TUV spokesman said the spike only really became evident in the wake of controversy surrounding Secretary of State Karen Bradley’s remarks about killings by the UK forces in NI not being crimes. Organisers of the event have speculated that the “hypocrisy” of Sinn Fein’s reaction may have been a factor in prompting such high demand.
Host, TUV leader Jim Allister, said the event will feature a minute of silence followed by victims telling their stories.
“This year’s speakers will include Seamus McDonald and Margaret Gilmore whose parents Mervyn, aged 26 and Rosaleen, 24, were murdered by UDA/UFF terrorists in Newtownabbey in 1976,” he said. Seamus, aged two and Margaret, aged four months, were in a nearby playpen when their parents were murdered.
“The Newtownabbey branch of the SDLP said the attack was part of ‘a deliberate murderous campaign’ to drive Catholics from Newtownabbey, Whitehouse and Greencastle.”
Also speaking will be Geraldine Ferguson whose son Patrick Azimkar was one of the two sappers murdered outside Massereene Barracks by the Real IRA 10 years ago.
Geraldine’s family originate from the Republic of Ireland and although she was raised as a Roman Catholic, she lost her faith in her mid-teens. Following the murder of her son, Geraldine said she reconnected with Christianity in a deeply personal way. Geraldine’s husband Mehmet Azimkar, Patrick’s father, is of Turkish Cypriot background.
He told the News Letter that he had grown up in the divided country and that their hope for Northern Ireland was for peace.
“I know what it is like to grow up in a divided country,” he said. “We are still suffering but we are here [in NI] for our son’s benefit and for peace.”
One victim who will be speaking will be Mervyn Lewers, a former RUC officer from Londonderry who lost a leg in an IRA car bomb in 1988. He moved to Canada but returned to Northern Ireland four years ago.
In a recent press interview he said: “Three decades on I would have liked to see things moved further along but little has changed. Victims are getting older yet they are still being left behind.”
Mr Allister said that this year Stormont will be illuminated in red from sunset to mark the date, courtesy of an application from the South East Fermanagh Foundation.
The red light is intended to signify both the poppy, in memory of members of the forces who were murdered, and the blood of civilian victims.