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There's a difference: Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd refuses to condemn IRA Manchester bombing

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd has said the conflict in Ireland was the difference between the IRA's bombing of Manchester in 1996 and last week's suicide bombing by Salman Abedi

The former Education Minister also refused to condemn the planting of a 3,300lb truck bomb in the city centre one Saturday morning 21 years ago.

The republican party spokesman was interviewed on the BBC Stephen Nolan show on Monday morning on his party's Westminster General Election campaign.

He was asked about an article in the Belfast Telegraph which asked Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill "when it became unacceptable to bomb Manchester?".

Read more: So, Michelle O'Neill, just when did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester?

Asked if he would condemn the IRA's attack in Manchester in 1996, the Upper Bann MLA said: "I'm not getting into that."

The political context of the conflict on the island of Ireland is the difference - that's the difference. The political context of the peace process of the past 20 years - that's the difference. John O'Dowd

He said it was "disgraceful" that the horror of last week was being used as a "political battering ram on this island and in the rest of the UK" against his party and Labour.

Asked what the difference was between the two attacks that he could condemn one and not the other, he said: "There is a difference, there was a conflict going on at the time that included many different players.

"If Sinn Fein can't condemn Manchester last week. No one can."

Read more:

Sinn Fein opponents using Manchester bomb to score cheap points, says Kearney

Michelle O’Neill’s sympathy for Manchester victims is heartfelt - there is no justification for what happened 

Mr O'Dowd added: "Theresa May launched attacks in recent weeks and months killing men women and children. Donald Trump launched attacks in recent weeks and months killing men women and children - have they the right to condemn Manchester?"

Because you have political drive to do something - doesn't make it right. John O'Dowd

He went on: "The IRA put forward an argument for their campaign. I'm not a spokesperson for the IRA. I wasn't a spokesperson for the IRA when they were active and I am not a spokesperson for the IRA now."

"I am putting it in context.  The IRA's bombing of Manchester did not happen in isolation. There are political parties using Manchester bombing as opportunity to attack Sinn Fein and the Labour party in some way to divert political attention from other elements of the election campaign.

Read more: IRA bombing campaign was completely wrong because it killed civilians – Corbyn

The MLA said it was an "uncomfortable reality" for every political leader in Western Europe to come up with a difference between Abedi's suicide attack on a music concert filled with young girls and the planting of a bomb in a shopping centre on a Saturday morning.

"None of them can stand back and say 'let he who is without sin thrown the first stone'."

Targeting of innocent men, women and children is disgusting. It is the definition of terrorism. John O'Dowd

On why he would condemn the last week's Manchester bomb, he added: "The deliberate targeting of innocent men, women and children is disgusting. It is the definition of terrorism and I have no sympathy with or allegiance to, or understanding of so-called ISIS, its predecessors Al-Qaeda or anyone else that goes out and deliberately targets men women and children"

He said just because those that carry out the bombing thought they were trying to achieve a political objective "did not make it right".

Asked if he thought violence for a political means was justified he added: "The circumstances which create violence for political means should never happen and when it does happen, it is the role of people like me, not combatants, to work a political way through those things.

Read more: What you want me to regret? Labour's Diane Abbott pressed over pro-IRA comments

During the wide-ranging interview, Mr O'Dowd also ruled out his party going into government with Arlene Foster as First Minister while the RHI inquiry continues its work and said that Donald Tump's presidency and Brexit had meant he could not put a date on the devolution of corporation tax.

"So many different factors in play, so many unknowns no one can answer that question," he said.

"The key question is, is it affordable? And we have to go through all those other factors that have come into play since Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster first announced it."


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