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La Mon atrocity survivors reject John McDonnell apology

By Rebecca Black

Published 19/09/2015

La Mon survivors Billy McDowell and Jim Mills
La Mon survivors Billy McDowell and Jim Mills
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has apologised for comments he made 12 years ago about the IRA
La Mon Hotel aftermath

An apology by shadow chancellor John McDonnell for suggesting that IRA terrorists should be honoured has been rejected as too late by victims.

Two survivors of the firebomb which killed 12 innocent diners at the La Mon Hotel in 1978 said until he calls on every terrorist to be brought before the courts, they will not accept his apology.

The decision by new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to appoint Mr McDonnell as his shadow chancellor sparked anger earlier this week. The controversial MP told a meeting in London 12 years ago that he thought terrorists should be honoured.

"It's about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle," he said then. "It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA."

On Thursday Mr McDonnell issued an apology "from the bottom of my heart" for the comments. During an appearance on Question Time, he said it had been a "mistake" to use the words and accepted he had "clearly" caused offence.

He also apologised for an "appalling joke" in 2010 about wanting to assassinate former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Vernon Coaker, has distanced himself from the original comments.

"John McDonnell has apologised for his remarks and he was right to do so," he said.

However, a number of IRA victims yesterday told the Belfast Telegraph of their continuing unease about Mr McDonnell. William McDowell and Jim Mills, who survived the La Mon atrocity, queried why the apology took so long.

"It has taken Mr McDonnell 12 long years to show his contrition for the awful insult he inflicted on every innocent victim of the IRA terrorist campaign when he called for the terrorists to be honoured for their contribution to the peace process," they said. "We may start to believe Mr McDonnell is really sincere when we hear him calling for every terrorist perpetrator still at large to be apprehended and brought before the courts to receive justice for their foul deeds. Until then, we can only assume his present 'apology' is purely for political expediency."

Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was gunned down by the IRA, described Mr McDonnell's original words as "deeply hurtful and nauseating".

"Describing the IRA as 'honourable', there is nothing honourable in disguising yourself and committing murder and terrorism," she said. "The IRA's violence didn't bring peace, it stole lives and brought heartbreak.

"I welcome his apology but now it's time to show that he means it. I would like him to come and visit victims of IRA terrorism, come and listen to their experiences and see how important it is to be mindful with words. Enough has been done to pacify terrorist groups, now it's time to put victims first." Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was killed by an IRA bomb in Warrington in 1993, said the apology was welcome "on the face of it", but questioned the MPs motivation for making it.

"How sincere it is or how much it is based on the fact that his political profile has changed, I don't know," he said.

"Far from consolidating the peace process by saying what he did, you could argue that he was giving succour to the view the more you fight, the more you fight on, the better the deal you get."

Meanwhile, Kenny Donaldson from Innocent Victims United has requested a meeting with Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonnell. He said: "The real proof of the pudding will be how John McDonnell, and moreover the Labour leadership, including Jeremy Corbyn, engage with innocent victims and survivors of PIRA terrorism - a constituency which both men have treated with contempt or dismissed over the years."

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