Sinn Fein has branded as “ridiculous” the assertion that a west Belfast MLA deliberately insulted those who suffered during the Troubles.
During a recent interview, Pat Sheehan described the Northern Ireland conflict as “probably quite civilised”, sparking condemnation from victims’ groups.
Kenny Donaldson, who heads up the victims’ group South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), said Mr Sheehan’s remarks were an “insult to innocent victims”.
Last night, a Sinn Fein party spokesman robustly refuted the accusation levelled at the Assembly Member.
“Pat Sheehan has given his views in a fairly honest and frank interview,” he said.
“It is totally absurd and ridiculous to suggest he would want to offend victims when, as a member of Healing Through Remembering, he works so closely with different groups who have been affected by the Troubles.”
Mr Sheehan — an ex-IRA activist and Maze prisoner — argued that the conflict here was not as bad as mass killings that took place elsewhere in the world.
He also said the paramilitary organisation “could have left a 1,000lb car bomb on the Shankill” had it wanted to kill Protestants.
Mr Sheehan added that he didn’t believe the IRA tried to kill civilians on purpose.
In response to what he labelled “outrageous comments”, Mr Donaldson dismissed Mr Sheehan’s remarks as “the latest attempt in a litany of efforts by the Republican movement to legitimise their criminal campaigns”.
“What we had in Northern Ireland was never a war; the illegal army to which he belonged were never combatants,” said the SEFF director. “Rather, the IRA was, and is, a proscribed, illegal terrorist organisation.
“There were many atrocities carried out over the course of the Troubles which were perpetrated by republican militants and, for that matter, ‘so-called loyalists’ which were motivated by blatant sectarianism.”
The victims’ group chief said that instead of “glorifying and revelling in past ills inflicted upon the community”, Mr Sheehan should “recognise the depth of the pain and suffering caused”.
The Sinn Fein spokesman added that Mr Sheehan would be prepared to meet any organisations that were concerned about the remarks he made.