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Stormont must do more to help victims, La Mon bomb families tell Foster

First Minister apologises to relatives for ‘on fire’ song and hears of their fight for justice

By Ivan Llittle

Published 08/11/2016

Billy McDowell
Billy McDowell
First Minister Arlene Foster apologised over DUP members singing ‘Arlene’s on Fire’ at La Mon during their conference
Arlene Foster

Families who lost loved ones in the horrific La Mon massacre met First Minister Arlene Foster yesterday to demand that the Stormont Executive does more to help terror victims.

Relatives of some of the 12 people killed in the February 1978 attack joined survivors of the blast to tell the DUP leader that the needs of victims have been "sidelined and neglected".

Mrs Foster yesterday held talks with the families at Stormont to apologise face-to-face for her and her party members singing 'Arlene's on Fire' at the scene of the IRA firebombing 38 years ago.

The DUP leader last week telephoned one of the victims, Billy McDowell, to express her regrets after he had said he was shocked at the party's "insensitive and offensive" behaviour at their party conference in La Mon last month.

During the call, Mrs Foster invited Mr McDowell and other La Mon relatives including Jim Mills to meet her.

Mr McDowell's late wife Lily sustained extensive burns after she was engulfed in the fireball after the explosion, and Mr Mills lost his wife Carol and sister Sandra Morris in the bomb.

The families were accompanied to the meeting with Mrs Foster by officials from the Ulster Human Rights Watch advocacy service.

Mrs Foster again said that the singing of the DUP's version of the Northern Ireland football anthem 'Will Grigg's on Fire" and the dancing which went along with it should never have happened.

Mr McDowell, whose wife died in 2014, told Mrs Foster that the bombing changed their lives for ever.

Other survivors told the First Minster of their ordeal on the night of the bombing and one source said "Mrs Foster listened intently to what the La Mon group had to say and she sympathised with them".

The source added: "She apologised unreservedly for the distress that had been caused to them at the party conference. That was welcomed by the victims and survivors."

Mr McDowell also told Mrs Foster of the La Mon campaigners' battle for justice. After the bombing a total of 25 people were arrested. Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was one of them but he was released without charge.

Only two men have ever been charged in connection with the bombing.

One was jailed for manslaughter while the other was acquitted on the murder charges. Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that the Police Ombudsman had launched a review of the RUC's investigation into the bombing.

The La Mon families had lodged complaints two years ago, alleging that Sinn Fein's Denis Donaldson, who admitted that he was a double agent working for MI5, had been involved in the bomb attack. He was murdered at a remote cottage in Donegal 10 years ago.

The La Mon families dismissed an Historical Enquiries team investigation into the bombing as "a whitewash" and called for a public inquiry after claiming that the disappearance of files relating to interviews with IRA men was designed to protect republicans involved in the peace process.

The public inquiry call was rejected by the former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers but the ombudsman's review was welcomed by the La Mon families and by Ulster Human Rights Watch.

At yesterday's meeting, sources said the La Mon families urged Mrs Foster to support their efforts to see "meaningful progress" with the Police Ombudsman investigation.

The source said: "They also made clear that they expect a clearer and more determined commitment on behalf of the Executive to assist the victims and survivors of terrorism in Northern Ireland whose needs have often been sidelined and neglected."

The source added: "Mrs Foster responded positively and commended the victims and survivors of the La Mon House atrocity for their perseverance in the fight for truth, justice and acknowledgment."

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