Belfast Telegraph

SF's O'Neill accused of 'crass electioneering' at Belfast book of condolence signing

By Aaron Tinney

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has been accused of using the Manchester bomb atrocity as an opportunity for "crass" election campaigning.

The republican, whose father and uncle were IRA prisoners, turned up at Belfast City Hall yesterday to sign a book of condolence for the victims of the Manchester Arena massacre.

Mrs O'Neill was the only person who signed her page of the book to include her job, highlighting that she was the leader of Sinn Fein.

She wrote: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families bereaved and injured in Manchester. We stand strongly alongside you all in solidarity. God bless", before telling journalists she "couldn't imagine" as "a mummy" the pain being experienced by the families of those killed and injured in the Manchester suicide bomb, which she called a "horror attack".

Sinn Fein's northern leader made the announced appearance yesterday morning as political parties across the UK announced they were suspending their general election campaigning in respect for the 22 killed and 59 maimed in the terror attack.

She refused to take any questions from the media who had been gathered for her visit.

A leading campaigner for IRA victims claimed the 40-year-old turned it into an "promotional opportunity for her party".

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United told the Belfast Telegraph: "There was no necessity for Michelle O'Neill to sign off the Book of Condolence as 'Sinn Fein Leader in the North', and many victims of terrorism will view this action as crass."

He claimed her statements of empathy were rendered hollow by her family's association with the IRA.

The campaigner, whose close friends include victims of the IRA bomb attacks on Manchester in 1992 and 1996, added: "If Michelle O'Neill is genuinely concerned for the people of Manchester then as leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland there is something that may bring a level of healing which she could do - apologise unreservedly to the people of Manchester for the IRA's attacks on that city in 1992 and also in 1996 which left scores of people injured, both physically and also psychologically."

In its December 1992 bombing of Manchester, the Provisional IRA detonated two car bombs, wounding 65 people.

Four years later the IRA set off a 3,300lb truck bomb on Corporation Street in the centre of Manchester.

Comment: So, Michelle O'Neill, just when did it become unacceptable to bomb Manchester? 

Mr Donaldson added: "Monday night was a cruel act of terror which has left a high death-toll and even larger injured list but so too were the PIRA attacks of 1992 and 1996 cruel acts of terrorism.

"Overnight and throughout today we have been supporting victims and survivors of those attacks who are reliving those horrific experiences which they previously endured, many are going through considerable emotional and mental turmoil."

Unionist politicians approached by the Belfast Telegraph said they did not want to comment on Mrs O'Neill's City Hall appearance as they did not want to be seen to be "scoring political points" out of respect for the Manchester dead, while Sinn Fein yesterday said it would not be commenting on criticism of Mrs O'Neill on a day of tragedy for Manchester.

The controversy comes less than a month after Mrs O'Neill was slammed for attending a 'martyrs' commemoration in Cappagh, Co Tyrone for eight IRA men shot dead by the SAS 30 years ago.

After the parade and memorial service which took place at the end of April she described Patrick Kelly, Jim Lynagh, Pádraig McKearney, Declan Arthurs, Seamus Donnelly, Eugene Kelly, Gerard O'Callaghan and Tony Gormley as "Irish patriots who selflessly dedicated their lives to the fight against British oppression in Ireland - laying down their lives in the just cause for peace and Irish freedom".

Kenny Donaldson said he drew no distinction between the brutality of ISIS and the IRA.

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