Foster attendance at McGuinness funeral provokes praise and outrage

Arlene Foster and Bishop John McKeown arrive for the funeral  at St Columbas Church Long Tower, in Londonderry
Arlene Foster and Bishop John McKeown arrive for the funeral at St Columbas Church Long Tower, in Londonderry

Arlene Foster’s 11th hour decision to attend the funeral of Martin McGuinness has earned the DUP leader widespread praise – but outraged some victims of the IRA.

One woman whose mother was killed when the Provos bombed the Enniskillen Remembrance Day service in 1987 reacted to the former first minister’s decision by saying: “The betrayal is complete.”

Aileen Quinton and Stephen Gault, who both lost parents in the Enniskillen bomb, were critical of Arlene Fosters decision to go the funeral

Aileen Quinton and Stephen Gault, who both lost parents in the Enniskillen bomb, were critical of Arlene Fosters decision to go the funeral

Another Enniskillen victim, who survived the blast that killed his father, said he was “disgusted” that McGuinness – who had never renounced his terrorist past – was afforded such respect.

However, many more vicitms praised the decision taken by Mrs Foster in what they called “difficult circumstances”.

In a newspaper article penned the night before yesterday’s funeral service in Londonderry, Mrs Foster said: “Having worked with Martin McGuinness for almost a decade, I want to pay my respects to his family on the occasion of his death.”

Aileen Quinton’s mother Alberta was killed when the IRA’s no warning bomb claimed 12 lives as the town gathered to remember its war dead.

Like many other family members of the victims, Ms Quinton believes former IRA commander Mr McGuinness added to their suffering through continuing efforts to justify such atrocities.

In what seemed to be a reference to Mrs Foster’s planned attendance at the funeral, Ms Quinton, who has been a friend of Mrs Foster for many years, posted on Facebook the message: “The betrayal is complete.”

Responding to messages of support, Ms Quinton posted: “Some arrows of betrayal cut deeper than others. Not easy for any of us.”

Stephen Gault’s father Samuel was also killed by the Enniskillen bomb.

He said: “It’s her choice and she will have to live with that. Since McGuinness died I have been hurt by the response from so-called unionist politicians and people from churches.

“I have no sympathy whatsoever for Martin McGuinness, and for his family I have no sympathy for them.

“When my father was murdered did McGuinness show any sympathy to my family or the other families that lost people at Enniskillen?”

Mr Gault added: “She felt it was the right thing but I have been personally hurt by it. Not only by Arlene but other politicians and church leaders who attended.

“It is disgusting the way they have betrayed the victims.”

Another IRA victim, whose father was shot dead in Co Down in 1985, said his heart told him the DUP leader was wrong to attend, but that his head said it was the correct decision.

“I was very aware that republicans would have exploited it for electoral opportunity [if she didn’t go], but it was difficult for me, as a victim, to watch all the eulogising,” Sammy Heenan said.

“In respect of Arlene Foster I am aware of the difficult decision she had to make.”

Mr Heenan added: “It was difficult for her too because she is a victim and she knew herself the scourge of terrorism in her own life – and her neighbours and friends were ethnically cleansed from the Fermanagh area.”

Former DUP councillor and part-time UDR soldier Sammy Brush was shot and wounded by the IRA in 1981.

He also believes Mrs Foster had been placed in “an awkward position”.

“She had worked with him and I can understand her decision, I’m sure she did a lot of soul-searching, but as far as I am concerned I would support what she did because she was a victim herself. She probably did the right thing under the circumstances,” Mr Brush said.

Another high-profile terror victim in support of Mrs Foster’s actions was Ann Travers.

She said it was the former first minister’s place to be there at the funeral of her former Executive partner.

“Absolutely she must,” Ms Travers said.

“For a number of reasons. First of all its quite normal to attend the funeral of a work colleague or business partner, which is what they were – first and deputy first minister. She is a political leader. She is a professional and must separate personal experiences and feelings from this gesture.”

Ms Travers, whose sister Mary was killed and her magistrate father seriously wounded in an IRA gun attack, wrote on Facebook: “We as victims don’t have to go, we can switch off the radio/tv, stay off social media for a day and leave the newspapers on Friday and at the weekend in the shop.”

Ms Travers said it was important to always remember the victims of the IRA, especially “those who haven’t been given a Christian funeral,” but added: “I understand why Arlene Foster must attend this funeral, I hope everyone else does also.”

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford also posted his feelings on Facebook – saying his party leader’s experience at the hands of the IRA gave her the “moral authority” to make her own decison on the matter.

“The IRA shot her father in the head in front of her when she was a little girl. They tried to blow up the school bus she was on because the man driving it was an off-duty UDR man,” he said.

“Arlene Foster has moral authority beyond any other modern-day unionist politician I can think of to choose her course of action today.”

Mr Stalford added: “In my view she did the right thing but I respect and acknowledge many people couldn’t or wouldn’t have done it. To be a leader is to be alone sometimes.”

However, Adrian McQuillan, who was a DUP MLA until two months ago, had a different view on Mrs Foster’s attendance: “I don’t think she should be there – he doesn’t deserve respect,” Mr McQuillan said.

TUV leader Jim Allister said the DUP leader’s attendance was an indication she was prioritising a “political desire to rehabilitate herself with the republican community in pursuit of a deal with Sinn Fein”.

Mr Allister added: “Like many of the victims of his murderous IRA I see nothing to celebrate in the life of Martin McGuinness. In truth more of our best citizens would still be alive today but for his wicked direction and practice of terrorism.”