US republican denies trolling IRA critic Ann Travers over cancer
A US republican linked to the head of a New York-based Sinn Fein fundraising group who was accused of trolling a cancer victim online has denied aiming the remarks at IRA critic Ann Travers.
Ms Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead by the IRA in 1984, said she was left "deeply distressed" after remarks on Twitter by Catherine Kelly of Friends of Sinn Fein (FoSF).
She wrote: "This tweet has really distressed me. I am not scum for talking about my cancer, which I did to highlight symptoms to other women.
"The IRA and SF have done enough to me, I don't need their 'friends' carrying on the abuse."
Ms Kelly, understood to be the partner of FoSF president Jim Cullen, wrote: "Ann Travers made a fool of herself stomping off Twitter in a fanfare then returning with her 'cancer' explanation. I rightly called her on it."
The comment was interpreted as calling into question Ms Travers' high-profile battle with breast cancer, which spread to her bowel before being defeated.
However, Ms Kelly claimed that the tweet was not aimed at Ms Travers' battle with the disease and said she was not even aware that Ms Travers had cancer. "I did not refer to AT [Ann Travers'] cancer. I did not even know the poor girl had/has cancer," she said.
"My tweet with quotation marks was quoting AT herself who tweeted that her return to Twitter, after a much publicised departure, was inspired by her 'friend's cancer'.
"I scoffed at that because ironically enough I thought [that] was an awful thing to say on social media.
"Her exit from Twitter in 2014 was very dramatic and publicised - claiming abuse (I had never encountered her before). I found it distasteful to explain her return in that way."
Ms Travers was targeted by online trolls for her opposition to the appointment of Mary McArdle - who had been convicted in connection with her sister's murder - as special advisor to a Sinn Fein minister.
Ms Travers said in an interview that she re-joined Twitter after her friend died from lung cancer.
She described this friend as "fearless" and said that she returned to social media to "support my very brave friends".
Asked if Ms Travers should be commended for this, Ms Kelly said: "My tweet was about an incident in 2014. I suppose it was a bit dramatic for my tastes - but when you put it that way, sure.
"Anyone coping with/fighting cancer is fearless in my opinion. Including AT.
"My tweet was referring to her 'friend's cancer' and I quoted that."
But TUV leader Jim Allister said Ms Travers had been subjected to vicious online attacks since her decision to back his Special Advisers Bill, which prevents anyone with a serious conviction from securing such a position.
"This Kelly outburst is but the latest chapter in that Sinn Fein orchestrated river of hate," he said.
"Ann Travers is a most remarkable lady - in contrast to her republican detractors - who has demonstrated irrepressible fortitude in fighting for justice for her murdered sister and in battling cancer.
"To think that anyone would stoop so low as to attack her in this way tells us all we need to know of the gutter which IRA/Sinn Fein still occupy.
"The Ann I am privileged to know will emerge from this even stronger and unlike her enemies can hold her head high as a champion for truth and justice."
Ann's sister Mary, a 22-year-old teacher, was shot dead on April 6, 1984 as she walked home after attending Mass at St Brigid's Catholic Church in south Belfast.
The gunmen had been targeting her father Tom, a judge.
Among those who supported Ms Travers on Facebook was DUP leader Arlene Foster.
She said: "If she [Kelly] feels the need to tweet about you, someone she has never met, she is unnerved and unsettled by you and what you stand for.
"To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I have enemies? Good, that means I have stood up for something."