Belfast Telegraph

Unionists attack film festival over bomber drama

By Suzanne Breen

Unionist politicians have expressed outrage that a controversial drama about a prominent ex-IRA and INLA member will be screened by the Belfast Film Festival tonight.

The Legion Hall Bombing focuses on the trial of Willie Gallagher who was 16 years old when he was arrested for planting the bomb in the Strabane premises.

Gallagher will attend tonight’s screening with family members. He served eight years in jail for the 1975 IRA attack for which he continues to deny involvement.

He was later jailed for planting a no-warning INLA bomb in a Strabane pub frequented by security force members.

A total of 30 people, both security force members and civilians, were injured in the explosion. Gallagher pleaded guilty and served 10 years in the Maze for that attack.

UUP leader Tom Elliott said: “Willie Gallagher is a convicted terrorist who chose to join both the IRA and INLA and who chose to plant bombs in an attempt to murder people and destroy property. Those foolish enough to go and see this film should spare a thought for his victims.”

TUV leader Jim Allister said: “It’s appalling that this drama be shown. The film industry would be better highlighting the injustices people have suffered at the hands of republicans than making programmes about republicans’ alleged experiences.”

Describing the film’s screening as “deeply disturbing”, DUP West Tyrone representative Tom Buchanan said: “Willie Gallagher is someone who revels in his previous terrorism and is a perfect representation of the past which the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to leave behind.”

Gallagher said he was “unsurprised” at the unionist response: “The film exposes the unionists’ beloved Diplock court system. What’s disgraceful is that the judicial system still hasn’t changed and republicans continue to face non-jury courts.”

Stephen Hackett, programmer for the Belfast Film Festival, said The Legion Hall Bombing had been chosen because of its “stylistic approach”.

Leading man’s first glimpse at barred flick

The Legion Hall Bombing was banned by the Government when it was made in 1977.

It focused on the trial of Willie Gallagher, charged with bombing the British Legion hall in Strabane. Based on court transcripts, it aimed to show alleged injustices in the Diplock court system.

Gallagher was convicted despite a Crown witness saying the bomber was tall with fair hair, while Gallagher was small with black hair. He said he was in Limerick at the time of the bombing.

A censored version of the film was shown on the BBC’s Play For Today in 1978, but at a later time slot than usual.

Gallagher will watch the film for the first time tonight. He didn’t see it when it was initially screened because he was on the 42nd day of a hunger strike over alleged assaults by some prison officers.

He said the prison authorities deliberately removed the TV from the hospital room so he couldn’t watch the programme. He ended the hunger strike after 50 days.

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