Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: I'd accept no prosecutions if Provos told who put bomb under school bus

By Liam Clarke

Arlene Foster has said that if the IRA told her who placed a bomb under her school bus when she was a teenager, she would take the information to the Historical Inquiries Unit.

If the proposed investigations body was set up, the new DUP leader would be willing to accept the condition that no prosecution could be taken on the basis of information she gave.

The Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA was caught up in two IRA attacks.

At the age of eight her father was shot in the head. He survived, but the family had to move. The bus bomb attack came when she was just 16.

Mrs Foster said she believed she knows who shot her father. “It was thought to be Seamus McElwaine, who was notorious at that time,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“The SAS shot him dead in 1986 when he was on ‘active service’, so he met judgment in the most summary way.

“He has gone to meet his maker and will have final judgment passed on him by now, I would imagine. That ends it for me.”

McElwaine was at the time a well-known IRA figure, having turned down a chance to study in America to take part in the campaign of terror.

He joined the junior IRA at the age of 14 and was dead at 26. Before that, however, he rose through the group to become the commander of the IRA in Fermanagh.

He was later imprisoned for murdering two members of the security forces. Later still he escaped from the Maze Prison and was still on the run when he was killed.

An IRA companion who was caught with arms and ammunition in the incident in which McElwaine was shot said the soldiers had opened fire without warning.

But the Army denied this and claimed the IRA unit was preparing to fire on them.

Mrs Foster said the bus bombing was a different matter.

“My father got justice in the most summary of ways, but I don’t think anybody was charged with the bus attack,” she added.

“Would I like to know who planted the bomb? Yes, I would. Is that going to happen? That is the challenge for these agencies. Will the IRA play their part, or will they refuse?”

“Victims sometimes struggle with some of the legacy issues. What one victim wants, another victim doesn’t want. They want something completely different, and it is about trying to find a structure that deals with all that.”

In the Stormont House Agreement, the Historical Inquiries Unit was seen as a means through which to investigate cases from the past.

However, its establishment did not form part of the recently signed agreed Fresh Start deal.

While the formation of the Historical Inquiries Unit is some way off, Mrs Foster said she supported the idea of allowing victims’ families to receive information from terrorist groups, but not to use it for prosecution. Supporters of the idea have argued that in most Troubles cases, such as the bus bomb Mrs Foster was caught up in, there is little or no chance of prosecution.

But critics including victims of paramilitary attacks have said the threat of imprisonment should always be on the table, even if, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, no sentence can be longer than two years.

Mrs Foster also told how she was still uneasy with Sinn Fein and had no social contacts in the party, but was determined to make power-sharing work.

“I find it very hard to understand how somebody could endorse what Sinn Fein and the IRA was doing and why people would vote for them,” she added.

“But people do vote for them. That is the reality, which I have to accept, and try to work for the betterment of the whole of Northern Ireland.”

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