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Martin McGuinness called IRA man who shot my dad a saint - but we can still work together, says DUP's Arlene Foster

Foster vows to make Stormont work despite anger at SF man’s elegy to Provo hitman

By Cate McCurry

Published 09/02/2016

Arlene Foster with Martin McGuinness in 2011
Arlene Foster with Martin McGuinness in 2011
Her father in his RUC uniform
Arlene with her parents John Kelly and Georgina
Seamus McElwaine
Arlene Foster is interviewed for BBCNI’s Spotlight programme

Arlene Foster has revealed how Martin McGuinness once praised the man she believes tried to kill her father as a "saint".

In spite of the difficulties it has caused in her relationship with the Sinn Fein veteran and former IRA commander, Mrs Foster insists the revelation won't stop her working with him.

As First and Deputy First Ministers, the two leaders work together on a near-daily basis, attending photocalls and signing joint statements.

Mrs Foster's father, who was a full-time RUC officer and farmer, was shot in the head by the IRA on their family farm in rural Co Fermanagh when she was eight years old.

Mrs Foster said police told her family that the late IRA man, Seamus McElwaine, was behind the murder attempt.

McElwaine was a notorious IRA gunman and a well-known figure in republican circles who was later convicted of the murder of two UDR men in rural Fermanagh, but who was thought to be responsible for at least 10 more.

He later took part in the Maze escape, returned to Fermanagh, and continued in his role within the IRA.

He was still on the run when he was shot dead in April 1986 by the SAS as he was planting a roadside bomb designed to kill security forces.

His IRA companion, Sean Lynch (now a Sinn Fein MLA) -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.

Thousands of republicans flocked to McElwaine's funeral, including the Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams. Mr McGuinness was selected to give the graveside oration in which he described McElwaine as a "freedom fighter" and "a saint", who had been "murdered by a British terrorist".

In an interview with BBCNI's Spotlight, which is being aired tonight, Mrs Foster revealed that she continues to find this personal connection between her and Mr McGuinness difficult but she says it won't stop her working with him, because the work they have to do is "too important".

Responding to the comments the Sinn Fein MLA said that positive leadership is required to assist reconciliation and dealing with the past.

In a statement he said: "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."

In tonight's programme, reporter Declan Lawn goes behind-the-scenes with the DUP leader in her first month in the role.

Before the attack on her father John Kelly, a young Arlene knew nothing of sectarian strife or political violence. She says that these things simply were not discussed in the house, or at least, not in front of her.

The rest of the family, including Arlene, were in their Roslea home when two IRA men opened fire on him as he was locking up his cowshed.

The first bullet grazed his forehead, causing him to drop to the ground.

He scrambled inside and, whilst bleeding profusely from the head, he ushered his family up to the main bedroom, and told them to lie on the floor behind the bed, in the darkness.

By this stage, Mr Kelly had set off security flares which had been installed on the roof to let security forces know he was under attack.

The family waited in the bedroom for 10 long minutes, until police arrived in the farmyard.

That night everything changed for Arlene as she learned the reason why men had tried to kill her father - and so began her political education.

Spotlight is broadcast on BBCNI tonight at 10:45pm

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