Belfast Telegraph

'Disgusted' relatives demand removal of Martin McGuinness' name from prestigious peace prize list

By Claire O'Boyle

Relatives of IRA victims have written to the committee that shortlisted Martin McGuinness for a peace prize, pleading with them to reconsider.

Revealing how the nomination had dragged them back to the days their loved ones died, families said they struggled daily with their loss because even after all these years there are still no answers - answers they believe Mr McGuinness could provide.

The former deputy First Minister, who triggered the collapse of Stormont with his resignation last month, has made it to the final six for the prestigious Tipperary Peace Award, whose previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Ban Ki Moon and inspirational teenager Malala Yousafzai.

A number of relatives have already written to the committee in disgust.

"I'm absolutely distraught," said Margaret Veitch, whose parents William and Agnes Mullan were murdered in the Poppy Day massacre in Enniskillen on November 8, 1987.

Eleven people were killed and 63 others injured when the no-warning bomb ripped through the Co Fermanagh town. A 12th victim, school principal Ronnie Hill, spent 13 years in a coma before he died in 2000.

"I've spent this morning in tears, remembering my father and mother and the horrific way they died," said Margaret.

"Their coffins were closed and we had to follow two hearses to their funeral. It's distressing now to even think about. They were both wonderful people and still we have no justice for them."

Widow Margaret, who still lives in the town her parents died, is almost 70 herself now and is coming close to the age they were murdered, which has made her even more desperate for justice.

"I can't mince my words any longer," said the grandmother-of-two. "Martin McGuinness was a commander in chief of the IRA at one point. If he didn't know what went on at Enniskillen, did he hear about it over the years? Does he know anything?

"We still have no answers, and I believe he could give them to us. But he refuses to talk and forces us to go on with this pain for 30 years.

"And yet here he is being nominated for a peace award. Are people just feeling sympathy for him because he's not well? He had no sympathy for me or my family or all the others left heartbroken.

"It's absolutely devastating and I can only plead with the people who will ultimately pick the winner, do not pick him."

David Temple's brother William was 16 when he was killed by the IRA in the 1972 Claudy bombing. Again, without warning, three bombs went off in the sleepy Co Derry village, killing nine people - five Catholics and four Protestants. The youngest victim was just eight.

"It's a kick in the teeth," said 63-year-old David. "Once again, the victims have to lie down and take it. Every year we make the trip to Claudy to lay flowers to remember everyone who died.

"We ask over and over again for answers, but no answers ever come. Meanwhile Martin McGuinness is getting praised left, right and centre. He moves on, but we can't.

"People tell us to put it all in the past, but that's not easy when you're looking for justice and the people who could help you get it just won't.

"My mother Nettie is 91 and all she's ever wanted are answers about her son. Will she get them before she goes to her grave? The way things are going, it doesn't look like it. William's death destroyed our family and my father was so distressed by what happened to his son he died less than four years later. It never leaves you, not for a single day."

David said he found it impossible to see beyond his IRA past. "People have told me Martin McGuinness is a changed man," he added. "But as far as I can see, he's shown not an ounce of remorse. He has never tried to help us get answers. How can we believe he's a man of peace?

"Previous winners of this award touched people's hearts. But while Martin McGuinness lets us go on like this, the same can't be said for him."

Ann Travers' sister Mary was gunned down by the IRA just yards from her Belfast home in 1984 as she walked home from Mass with her parents. She was just 22. Later, the IRA said her death was "tragic and regrettable" and that her father Thomas, a Catholic magistrate, was the "legitimate target".

Yesterday Ann said news of Mr McGuinness' place on the Tipperary Peace Award shortlist was like a "sick joke".

"I've been shocked by so many things over the years," she added. "This is another thing to add to the upset. It's dragged me right back to that day.

"To have him on the shortlist shows an insensitivity towards victims and their families, who are still suffering very much.

"I've already written to the awards people, as have a number of others, to ask them to withdraw his name.

"People are still traumatised. They need physical, emotional and mental support, not to mention justice. For Martin McGuinness to be hailed as a man of peace with an international award before these issues are resolved is just too much.

"Nelson Mandela won the award before, but there can be no comparison between the two men. Mandela regretted the violence he was involved in. He truly worked for peace and justice, but Martin McGuinness has not done the same."

Martin Quinn from the Tipperary International Peace Awards said it would not be appropriate at this point to talk about Mr McGuinness's nomination.

"The shortlist was drawn up by an external group," he explained. "We were presented with a shortlist of six, as we are every year, and from here we will chooses the winner.

"We will be happy to talk about the winner once the decision is made, but at this point it not correct for me to talk about any individual in any detail."

Other names on the shortlist include human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (George Clooney's wife), Father Patrick Devine, a Roscommon-born priest based in Kenya with the Society of African Missions, and the Syrian White Helmets, a team of volunteers who risk their lives to save people in the war-torn country, regardless of their religion.

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