Crowds gather in Omagh to demand end to violence after police officer’s shooting
John Caldwell remains critically ill after being attacked in the town on Wednesday night
Hundreds of people have gathered to demand an end to paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland.
The main street of the Co Tyrone town of Omagh was brought to a standstill as crowds assembled in front of the courthouse for a rally in solidarity with a police officer shot by gunmen at a sports centre in front of his young son.
Standing a short distance from where a 1998 dissident republican bomb killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, they held posters saying: “No going back”.
Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell remains critically ill after the attack in Omagh on Wednesday night.
He was targeted at a sports centre where he coaches a youth football team.
Earlier, Beragh Swifts, the football club at which Mr Caldwell is a volunteer coach, led a solidarity walk through the village of Beragh on the outskirts of Omagh.
Five men have been arrested under the Terrorism Act in connection with the attempted murder investigation.
On Saturday afternoon, police said they had been granted more time to question four of the men.
A PSNI spokesperson said a court in Belfast had granted an extension to the detention of four male suspects, aged 22, 38, 45 and 47, until 10pm on Tuesday February 28.
A fifth man, aged 43, who was arrested on Friday, also remains in custody.
Police have said dissident republican group the New IRA is their primary line of inquiry.
They have asked for any witnesses or those with information to contact detectives by calling 101 or online.
Information, including photos, CCTV and dash-cam footage, can also be provided to police through the Major Incident Public Portal.
The rally in Omagh on Saturday morning was organised by trade unions.
Anton McCabe, secretary of Omagh Trade Union Council, said they were mindful a man remains critically ill, and children traumatised by the incident, and wanted to have a rally that was as respectful as possible.
“We are here today to say no going back – no going back to violence, fear and injustices,” he told those gathered, to applause.
Patricia McKeown of Unison said peace in Northern Ireland was only born when “a massacre was perpetrated on the men, women and children of Omagh”.
“Twenty-five years later, the attempt has been made again and your spirit and resolve is not broken,” she said.
“The factions who rejected our peace agreement will not change the resolve of the people.”
Padraig Mulholland of Nipsa said there are two Omaghs.
“There is the Omagh where this attack took place, but there is the positive Omagh; there is the Omagh that wants positive change and that was best represented by health and education workers who held another protest here earlier this week. They were here for young people, for working people, trying to fight for a better future,” he said.
“No going back, let’s fight for a better future for all.”
Mr McCabe made the final address, saying: “A clear message has gone out today: no going back.
“Those who shot John Caldwell on Wednesday were in serious danger of lighting a fire that could burn us all, and let us be clear, the people of Omagh today have said no – no going back.
“We are standing not just in horror at what was done to John Caldwell, but standing here saying, ‘Let us build a better society, of justice, peace and equality’.”
A minute’s silence was observed.
Speaking after the event, Mr McCabe hailed those who attended the rally, describing it as a strong message from the people of Northern Ireland that they do not want to return to violence.
Earlier, hundreds gathered in Beragh, about eight miles from Omagh, for a walk of solidarity from the Beragh Swifts ground for Mr Caldwell.
Beragh Swifts chairman Richard Lyons said the community gathered in support of their friend and for all the children affected by the shooting.
“It’s been a very difficult time for the club; it’s been a very difficult time for the community,” he said.
“John worked tirelessly for this club. He’s no different to any other volunteer… the contribution that John gives to this club is phenomenal and this is an unbelievably difficult time for us all.”Published: by Radio NewsHub