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Husband of La Mon firebombing survivor outraged by 'insensitive' song at DUP conference

By Ivan Little

A man whose late wife sustained horrific burns in the IRA's firebombing of the La Mon Hotel has angrily condemned DUP members for singing 'Arlene's on Fire' at their annual conference in the same venue.

Billy McDowell rang the DUP's headquarters to complain that delegates had been "dancing on the graves" of the 12 people who lost their lives.

He said he was told that the song, which was accompanied by party members including Arlene Foster jumping up and down, was "just young people having fun".

The First Minister was surrounded on stage by her party faithful on Saturday after finishing her first keynote conference address as party leader and she joined in as they adapted the Northern Ireland football anthem 'Will Grigg's on fire'.

She was also seen smiling, laughing and throwing herself enthusiastically into the dance, waving her arms triumphantly in the air.

Mr McDowell said that seeing the footage stunned and sickened him.

The DUP apologised for any hurt or distress saying no offence was intended.

A DUP spokesman added: "Some younger members wanted to have their picture taken with the party leader at the end of the conference and sang an adaptation of a well known Northern Ireland football song. No offence was intended."

In February 1978 Mr McDowell's wife Lily literally was engulfed in flames when the IRA's massive incendiary bomb, which contained a napalm-like substance, exploded outside a window of the hotel at Gransha, where members of the Irish Collie Club had been attending their annual dinner.

Mrs McDowell was close to death but she was dragged from the inferno. She was the most seriously burnt of the 30 people who were injured in the blast.

Mr McDowell said he was shocked by the scenes at the DUP conference.

He said: "How could they have been so insensitive and disrespectful? That dancing carry-on was like dancing on the graves of the innocent people who died.

"I know that relatives of the victims and the survivors have all been appalled that the DUP could have done something so awful."

Mr McDowell, who campaigned for a public inquiry into the bombing, said he was furious that Mrs Foster was dancing and singing 'Arlene's on Fire'.

He added: "Mrs Foster certainly knows what happened at La Mon.

"And the DUP are going to lose votes from people associated with the atrocity over what they did at the party conference. Everyone has found it totally repulsive."

Mrs McDowell died in 2014 aged 72, and in a UTV documentary to mark the 10th anniversary of the bombing in 1988, she fought back the tears as she recalled how she saw the fire raging through the La Mon function room.

She was in and out of hospital for five years getting skin grafts and suffered a number of nervous breakdowns.

The day after the blast, the IRA admitted responsibility and apologised for the "inadequate" warning. They claimed that a telephone box which was to have been used to phone a warning was out of order.

Gerry Adams was among 25 people who were arrested over the attack, though the Sinn Fein leader was subsequently released without charge.

West Belfast man Edward Manning Brophy was charged with all 12 murders, but was acquitted.

Another man, Robert Murphy, was given 12 life sentences for the manslaughter, but he was freed on licence in 1995.

Belfast Telegraph


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