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Ann Travers hails bravery of Arlene Foster in working with Sinn Fein

By Rebecca Black

Published 10/02/2016

Arlene Foster with Martin McGuinness in 2011
Arlene Foster with Martin McGuinness in 2011
Ann Travers

A woman whose sister was murdered by the IRA has told of her admiration for Arlene Foster in overcoming her difficulties in working with republicans.

The First Minister revealed in an interview for the Spotlight programme that working with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was challenging because he praised as a "saint" the Provo who tried to kill her father.

Ann Travers' sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA in south Belfast on April 8, 1984, as she walked home from Mass with her father Thomas, a judge and the intended victim.

Ms Travers, a strong advocate for Troubles victims, said she thought highly of Mrs Foster.

"I have massive respect for her, and as a daughter and sister of IRA victims, I trust her to do the right thing," she added.

"I know her gut won't let her do anything else."

Mrs Foster spoke openly for the first time about the deep personal challenge it has been for her to work with Mr McGuinness, because of his graveside oration at the funeral of Seamus McElwaine.

IRA gunman McElwaine was shot dead by the SAS in April 1986. He was preparing to ambush an Army patrol near Roslea, Co Fermanagh. At his funeral two days later Mr McGuinness described him as a "highly intelligent volunteer".

Mrs Foster revealed that she believed it was McElwaine who attempted to murder her father, John Kelly, a part-time RUC officer, in 1979, based on information provided to her family by police.

She was just eight years old on the night when her father was shot in the head by the IRA in his own farmyard in Roslea.

Mrs Foster told Spotlight last night: "It is quite difficult. If you talk to Martin McGuinness now, he will say that unionists aren't the enemy, the enemy is poverty, the enemy is unemployment.

"That's fine, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he thought it appropriate to speak at Seamus McElwaine's funeral - a man who had been responsible for murdering many people in Co Fermanagh."

She added, despite her personal difficulties, she would work with the Deputy First Minister because "the past is the past".

"What I want to do is to build a future that everybody in Northern Ireland can ascribe to," she said.

Last night Mr McGuinness responded to Mrs Foster's comments by saying: "There will always be more than one narrative to any conflict.

"There is hurt on all sides and all of us, including the media, have a responsibility to recognise that if we are to consolidate peace and build genuine reconciliation.

"That is what I am committed to and I intend to stay positive in that work. People like myself, Arlene Foster and all politicians have a huge role to play by giving positive leadership in the work of reconciliation and coming to terms with the past."

Many took to social media to praise the First Minister. Lynne Gordon wrote: "Arlene Foster came across better than the expected DUP mantras and clichés of the past. 'Madonna from the bus' was my favourite."

Author Mary O'Donnell added: "Good docu on NI First Minister Arlene Foster revealing layers of destructive experiences in girlhood. Insightful."

However, the TUV accused Mrs Foster of having "brushed the past into oblivion" on its Fermanagh Facebook page. A spokesman wrote: "How dare Foster trivialise the troubles as 'the past is the past'. Many victims are still suffering horrendously 'the past in present day'.

"Some people will not brush murder under the carpet as DUP did with the McGuigan murder."

In December the same Facebook page attracted criticism for a personal attack on Mrs Foster. It appeared to suggest that if she set aside her differences with Sinn Fein for the good of Northern Ireland, it would be a betrayal of the memory of her late father.

Writing on the TUV's page, Mark Phillips defended Mrs Foster, asking: "Is she not a victim too? Think she has a right to her opinion. She suffered more than most."

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