The 1993 atrocity that killed nine innocent people left a legacy of grief and pain, writes Nelson McCausland
Twenty-five years ago, on October 23, 1993, two Provisional IRA bombers carried a bomb into a fish shop on the Shankill Road in Belfast.
The bomb exploded prematurely and nine innocent Protestants were murdered — the shop owner Desmond Frizzell; his daughter Sharon McBride; George and Gillian Williamson; Michael Morrison and his partner Evelyn Baird, as well as their daughter Michelle Baird, who was just seven years old; Leanne Murray, aged 13, and Wilma McKee.
Children were robbed of parents, grandparents were robbed of grandchildren and fathers and mothers were robbed of sons and daughters. The Shankill bomb brought death and grief, pain, tears and heartache and, 25 years later, there are still broken hearts and broken homes.
One of the IRA bombers, Thomas Begley, died in the explosion and afterwards he was buried with full IRA honours in the republican plot at Milltown. Then-Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams carried his coffin.
Describing that funeral, the book The Fight For Peace said: “The crowds gave no inkling of believing that Begley had done anything wrong, apart from causing his own accidental death.” That is a chilling observation.
The second IRA bomber, Sean Kelly, was badly injured but survived and, in January 1995, he was given nine life sentences.
The judge told him: “This wanton slaughter of so many innocent people must rank as one of the most outrageous atrocities endured by the people of this province in the last quarter of a century.”
Yet, in November 1995 Begley was commemorated with a parade through republican Ardoyne and, 20 years later, and just three days before the anniversary of the atrocity, a plaque commemorating Begley was unveiled in Ardoyne.
On the plaque Begley is described as “Oglach Thomas Begley” of the Belfast brigade, who “died on active service”.
There is also a quotation from Seamus Twomey, one of the founders of the Provisional IRA in 1969, and commander of the Belfast brigade when it launched its bombing campaign in Belfast, including Bloody Friday.
The quotation is: “It takes courage and devotion to your people to take the hard road to freedom.”
The implication is that the man who murdered nine people was a man of “courage and devotion”.
The event was organised by his former IRA “comrades” and the main speaker at the unveiling was the other Shankill bomber, Kelly.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds described the plaque as grotesque. However, Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly defended the decision to erect the memorial.
More recently the name of Begley appeared, along with the names of other IRA men, on a controversial memorial in Ardoyne.
The memorial was erected on land leased from the Housing Executive, and it was officially opened by Gerry Kelly.
There is a long tradition of terrorist bombing within Irish republicanism.
A botched republican prison escape in London in December 1867 resulted in the deaths of 12 innocent people and left 120 injured.
Irish republicans saw the terror that this created and the fact that, within days, Liberal leader W E Gladstone was proposing reforms in Ireland.
That led on to the republican “dynamite campaign”, which started in 1881.
The same tactic was adopted by the IRA before and during the Second World War when it launched a bombing campaign in Britain that resulted in the deaths of seven innocent civilians.
At that time the IRA was courting the Nazis. More recently, the strategy that was devised by the dynamiters in the 19th century was revived by the Provisional IRA and the Shankill bomb was part of that campaign.
Clerkenwell was 150 years ago, and surely a century-and-a-half of terrorist bombing is more than enough. That is why, instead of the defiant shout of “Up the rebels” and an annual Sinn Fein calendar of IRA commemorations, Mary Lou McDonald should face up to the truth that every IRA killing was murder and that murder is wrong, always wrong.
She often calls for politicians to show “leadership”.
Well, that would be real leadership.
There has been too much terror and too many tears.