Shankill bomber says 'sorry' at controversial ceremony
AN IRA commemoration held for Shankill bomber Thomas Begley in Ardoyne has been described as a "setback in community relations in north Belfast that has "created further divisions in society", by Alliance councillor John Blair.
Dozens of republicans attended the unveiling of a plaque in north Belfast for Begley, who died when a bomb he was carrying exploded at Frizzell's fish shop on the Shankill Road, killing nine people.
At the 20 minute commemoration the IRA man's father Billy Begley spoke of the pain felt by the victims' families and said there was no intention to cause offence
The crowd was also addressed by Sean Kelly, the IRA man who was with Begley on the day and survived the bomb who said that he was "truly sorry" for the "IRA operation that went wrong.
"I am truly sorry for the loss of life and the injuries that were suffered that day, and for the suffering the families have endured," he said before adding that the loss of civilian lives "was not the intention of the IRA".
The plaque states that the bomber "died on active service" and is "always remembered by his many comrades and friends" and includes a quote from former IRA leader Seamus Twomey.
Close by, a peaceful protest by the victims' relatives, held at the same time, was disrupted by a security alert after an object was thrown towards the crowd.
The protest was originally planned for Flax street, opposite to where the plaque was being unveiled but the alert meant that protesters had to be moved to Cambria street, off the Crumlin Road.
The PSNI later described the device as a hoax.
There was widespread anger and condemnation in north Belfast at the commemoration.
Earlier this week Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, who carried Begley's coffin in 1993, was quoted as saying that people needed to be "very sensitive", adding that Thomas Begley had a family who are arguably victims.
Sinn Fein has refused to comment on the event as it was not organised by the party.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds described the unveiling of the plaque on a public street as "morally wrong and grossly inconsiderate".
"To unveil such a plaque in a public street suggests that Begley should be viewed as some sort of role model. Sinn Fein may take that view but the vast majority of people remember the brutal and indiscriminate consequences of terrorism. It should not be publicly honoured. Terrorism should be remembered as evil, as misguided and as horrific."
"The extended Shankill community and wider society will this week pause to remember the terrible taking of innocent life perpetrated by the IRA on the Shankill Road on 23rd October 1993. The unveiling of this public plaque commemorating one of the perpetrators was morally wrong and grossly inconsiderate. It will only increase the deep hurt felt by the many victims of this bombing, particularly that of the families who lost loved ones."
Alliance deputy leader Naomi Long said: "Families will mourn the loss of a loved one, but today's commemoration will only have caused unnecessary hurt to the relatives of all those murdered on that tragic day in 1993.
"Victims must be shown respect and sensitivity, something that this event has failed to do. It is also clear that lessons have not been learnt from the Castlederg parade, which also caused great hurt and upset."