Organiser of trouble-hit Brighton bomber event would do same again

Patrick Magee and Jo Berry arriving at the Skainos centre in east Belfast
Patrick Magee and Jo Berry arriving at the Skainos centre in east Belfast

One of the organisers of Thursday’s east Belfast meeting with the Brighton bomber has defended the decision to stage it.

The gathering saw ex-IRA man Patrick Magee and Jo Berry – the daughter of one of his victims – take to the stage at the Skainos centre to discuss their unlikely friendship in the years following the atrocity.

But the event – which was part of the cross-community Christian-based 4 Corners festival – sparked furious scenes outside, as a crowd bawled obscenities at those who were going in to watch.

Police guarded the building and four officers were slightly injured in the slow-burning fracas, during which missiles and fireworks were thrown, bins set alight and vehicles damaged.

Even one long-standing loyalist who attended the meeting said he was later targeted by protestors outside, and has now told the News Letter he will stop talking to media in a bid to lower his profile.

Presbyterian minister the Rev Steve Stockman, one of the organisers of the whole festival, was asked if he had it to do again, if he would still stage it. He said, three times: “I think we would.”

He explained: “My answer to all of this is: when is there a right time? When is there a right place? Do we wait until after the peace has happened to start trying to make the peace?”

He said he regretted any of the damage or injuries linked to the disorder outside, but added that “what happened inside the room was significant and important”.

Inside the meeting, there had been emotional scenes as Ms Berry described coming to terms with her loss, and then later of learning to reconcile with her dad’s killer.

Others in the audience, some who had been injured or lost loved ones due to paramilitary violence, also had the opportunity to speak out.

Among them had been Mary Brady, a 68-year-old from west Belfast.

She told the audience of how her husband Paddy had been killed in retaliation for Magee’s attack, and she had come along because it was like a “thorn that buries deep in the side of my head”.

Drawing applause from the audience for her contribution, afterwards she said she was glad she had her say.

Skainos’ Rev Gary Mason, who had introduced the talk on Thursday night, said they had been considering cancelling the event due to the hostility on the streets, but it was actually top loyalist figures who persuaded them to press ahead.

First Minister Peter Robinson spoke out over the disorder yesterday.

A statement from the DUP leader said: “Those rioting on the streets did not challenge republicans. Instead they took the focus away from a debate, which heard how the republican terror campaign ended in failure.”