A Belfast woman whose parents were killed in the Shankill bomb has said she could sit down with Martin McGuinness to discuss the past, but only after an IRA apology.
On her first visit to America, victims campaigner Michelle Williamson found a large crowd of kindred spirits in New York at a demonstration called to coincide with the arrival of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at the United Nations.
“I met a lot of people who were in the same position as myself,” she said during an interview at the Sheraton Hotel yesterday.
“And I met a lot of good Libyan people that had been hurt by Colonel Gaddafi’s regime. I realised that I’m not the only innocent victim in the world. These were people you met for the first time, but you connected straight away,” she explained.
“And the biggest connection that we had was that we were all badly hurt by terrorism.”
When the Lockerbie bombing occurred in 1998, Michelle, then 21, said she felt “shock and horror that people were so cruelly taken out of the skies”.
She wasn’t aware of the Libyan connection to the IRA at the time her parents were killed in the 1993 Shankill bombing. It wasn’t until she joined Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR) that she discovered the link.
Ms Williamson said that while she has been encouraged by the level of support she has found in America , she’s sceptical that Gaddafi will ever be moved to act. “I won’t believe it until I see it. I still reckon that five, 10 years on we’ll still be fighting for it.
“But this isn’t about money for me, this is about recognition, and an apology would go an awful long way,” she said.
Williamson and FAIR leader Willie Frazer were in the audience when Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson appeared on a panel discussion organised by Bill Clinton in New York on Wednesday.
“To see people who were once terrorists sitting beside American people — it was very, very, hard to stomach,” she said
Asked if she could conceive of ever meeting Mr McGuinness to discuss the past, she said: “First I would need an apology from the IRA. I would be very angry talking to Martin McGuinness, I would tell him exactly what I thought of him and get it off my chest.
“I probably could sit down with him, but it would be a very hard thing to do. I still see the terrorists. I know that’s wrong, but I still see the man for what he did.”
Frazer said that he and Ms Williamson had been in Washington for meetings on Capitol Hill before coming to New York. On Thursday they met in New York with relatives of 9/11 victims and lawyers who are assisting them in their compensation drive.
Mr Frazer insisted the issue of Libyan compensation isn’t about money. “We need closure. We have to have redress. Holding Colonel Gaddafi to account is holding the IRA to account, and it’s going to close the history books on the conflict in Northern Ireland,” he said.