Belfast Telegraph

Mayor should quit post over praise for IRA killer: Swann

Causeway Coast and Glens mayor Sean Bateson defended his tweet
Causeway Coast and Glens mayor Sean Bateson defended his tweet
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has called on the Sinn Fein mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens to resign after he eulogised an IRA killer.

In a post on Twitter, Sean Bateson praised convicted murderer and hunger striker Thomas McElwee on the 38th anniversary of his death.

"Oh gallant South Derry you are forever blessed. In the struggle for freedom you have given your best. There's Hughes and there's Bateson, Sheridan and Lee and inscribed with their names now brave Tom McElwee," the Sinn Fein councillor tweeted.

Mr Swann said that the post was "another example of Sinn Fein mocking and disrespecting innocent victims".

"He has proved he cannot be a mayor for all the citizens of Causeway Coast and Glens and should step down before he causes any more offence," the North Antrim MLA said.

In response to the criticism, Mr Bateson said that he would "continue to attend republican commemorations which honour and remember those men and women who I believe died in the cause for Irish freedom".

"They are held with the utmost dignity and respect," he said.

The 26-year-old mayor said that the right to remember one's dead is protected under the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Bateson pointed out that he was a history teacher and was "fully aware of the different perspectives with regards to our past".

"There never will be a 'one size fits all' narrative of our conflict, which is hundreds of years of complexities," he said.

"It is exactly this understanding which allows me to respect those that hold a unionist and British interpretation."

Mr Swann said that McElwee was "many things, but brave was not one of them".

McElwee was convicted of being part of an IRA gang who planted bombs in Ballymena in October 1976. One killed 26-year-old shop owner Yvonne Dunlop. He was sentenced to 20 years, and joined the 1981 hunger strike, dying after a 62-day fast.

"We must never forget Thomas McElwee got to choose the timing and manner of his death. Yvonne Dunlop, like the rest of the IRA's victims, was given no choice," the UUP leader said.

In May Mr Bateson was criticised for posing for photos at memorials to two dead IRA men. A Twitter post boasting about tearing down a Union flag - described as the "butcher's apron" by Mr Bateson in the tweet - also surfaced.

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