Belfast Telegraph

Councillors walk out in protest at SF man's Enniskillen bomb comments

By Cate McCurry

Unionist and SDLP councillors have walked out of a council meeting in protest at the chairman's refusal to apologise for controversial comments he made about the Enniskillen bombing.

Sinn Fein's Stephen McCann provoked anger when he refused to "go down the road of condemning" the Remembrance Day bombing, which killed 11 people and left 63 injured in 1987.

DUP, UUP and SDLP members left the meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council in Enniskillen Town Hall 10 minutes into last night's gathering.

The West Tyrone councillor, who was appointed the chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council last month, declined to "condemn this or condemn that" during an interview with the Impartial Reporter newspaper.

"The root cause of the problem was the British involvement in Ireland," he claimed.

During the same interview, he praised former IRA man Seamus McElwaine, who was shot dead by the SAS in 1986, for his contribution to a peaceful future.

DUP leader Arlene Foster previously named McElwaine as the man she believed tried to kill her father, John Kelly, in 1979.

Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also gave a graveside oration at McElwaine's funeral.

Mr McCann was challenged about his remarks at the meeting in Enniskillen. Councillors claimed they walked out because he declined to apologise for his comments or chair a debate on the issue.

SDLP councillor John Coyle branded Mr McCann's remarks "disgusting".

He added: "Sinn Fein talk about respect, equality and integrity. Well, their view of respect, equality and integrity is clearly very different from mine."

His SDLP council colleague, Mary Garrity, tweeted after the meeting: "Anyone not willing to condemn Enniskillen or Omagh bombs is not a suitable first citizen.

"Council staff have contacted me in horror. Sad."

DUP councillors including Errol Thompson, Keith Elliott, Raymond Farrell and Paul Robinson said they refused to sit under Mr McCann's chairmanship.

In a statement they added: "It was widely publicised how Mr McCann refused to condemn the Enniskillen bomb and pledged support to the actions of local IRA terrorist Seamus McElwaine.

"Our party challenged Mr McCann on his comments and he refused to provide immediate clarity nor an apology. Our protest recognises the huge hurt and anger felt by many innocent victims following his comments.

"We are encouraged that our protest was supported by fellow unionists and other nationalist members.

"We are forever indebted to those men and women from across Northern Ireland who stood against republican terrorism."

In the newspaper interview, Mr McCann said: "You can go down this road of condemning this and commending that.

"But it (the Enniskillen bombing) was wrong and Sinn Fein came out at the time and said it was wrong. I am happy with that."

Ulster Unionist Howard Thornton proposed the motion asking for an apology and retraction of his comments.

Speaking after the walkout, he said: "In not condemning terrorism, Mr McCann appears to many people to be supporting the actions of the Provisional IRA.

"Mr McCann failed to repudiate and condemn the great hurt and destruction which Seamus McElwaine inflicted on the innocent people of County Fermanagh.

"Is this really the respect, honesty and integrity agenda we are really getting from Sinn Fein?"

Sinn Fein failed to respond to a request for comment.

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