The father of a boy killed by the IRA bomb attack in Warrington 20 years ago said he has not forgiven the terror group for murdering his son and described inviting its former commander Martin McGuinness to give a peace lecture in the town as an “audacious event”.
Mr McGuinness, now the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, was asked to speak in the Cheshire town by Colin Parry, whose son Tim, 12, died in the blast.
Mr Parry said many people have criticised the decision to have him speak tonight, but he believes it will send a message to the UK and Ireland that the peace process is a “very mature process”.
He said the question of forgiveness was a separate one.
“I haven’t forgiven the IRA for killing Tim, nor has anybody in my family and we never will,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“But nonetheless we’re pragmatic about the principles of building good relations across communities and across nations and I think you have to be quite hard-headed about it, and if I only ever did things on an emotional basis then I’d make some horrendously bad decisions.
“So this was a hard-headed decision to get Martin McGuinness to speak to a substantially Warrington audience, to explain his history perhaps, to talk about his present position on the arms struggle, and obviously I’ll speak first, so I’ll set the tone - it’s an audacious event.”
Mr Parry said he had asked Mr McGuinness on impulse after interviewing him in April and the Deputy First MInister had said yes straight away.
“He’s made a significant journey of his own and we’ve got to give him credit as he is now widely respected.
“History is littered with former terrorists who have become political leaders and I think Martin is the latest of that breed, and for that reason I think it’s an exactly sensible decision to have him come to our peace centre,” he added.
Mr Parry said it was highly significant to have the Sinn Fein politician deliver the lecture in the 20th anniversary year of the bombing and he had no second thoughts despite some people saying they would stay away.
“By and large I think more people have been positive and said this is absolutely what you need to do if you are leading a peace foundation which proclaims the importance of talking rather than fighting, so in that sense it’s absolutely consistent with our message,” he said.
Tim Parry was fatally injured and Johnathan Ball, three, was killed instantly when bombs planted in litter bins in the town’s main shopping area were detonated shortly after midday on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
No warning was given and no one has been prosecuted for the outrage on March 20, 1993 that left 56 people injured.
Johnathan was in the town with his babysitter to buy a card for Mother’s Day, the next day, when he was killed.
Tim, an Everton fan, was shopping for football shorts when he caught the full force of the explosion. He died in his father’s arms five days later in Liverpool’s Walton Hospital.
The death of the two boys sparked a public outcry in the UK and on both sides of the border in Ireland.
Mr Parry and Tim’s mother, Wendy Parry, have set up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, which has since become an internationally recognised centre for conflict resolution and victim support.
Mr Parry earlier said he invited Mr McGuinness to speak because “part of our ethos is that we talk to everyone”.
On the 20th anniversary of the bombing earlier this year Mr Parry said the bombing was “futile” but did further the cause of peace by leading to a sea-change in attitudes on both sides of the divide and giving fresh impetus to the peace process.
Mr McGuinness has previously met Mr Parry and visited the town for private meetings.
During a visit in 2001 he said he was sorry that Irish republicans were responsible for the boys’ deaths and that the bombing was wrong.
Mr McGuinness will give the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace - Peace Lecture 2013 this evening at the centre in Warrington.
Meanwhile, a group which has been campaigning for a fresh inquiry into the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings is planning a “dignified protest” at The Peace Centre in Warrington over the decision to invite Mr McGuinness to give the lecture.
Justice 4 the 21 said it was inappropriate for the Northern Irish politician to be giving a talk on peace.
“Him giving a talk on peace is a little bit like asking Myra Hindley to give a talk on child protection,” said Julie Hambleton, a founder of the group, whose 18-year-old sister Maxine was killed in the IRA bombings.
Earlier this year, four of the group’s members met Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson in Belfast, who backed their calls for a public inquiry into the atrocity.
However Mrs Hambleton said its efforts to open a dialogue with Mr McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams in the group’s search for answers over who carried out the pub bombings, had so far been met with silence.
She added she had a great deal of admiration for the work of Colin and Wendy Parry, saying their efforts on behalf of the victims of terrorism was “incredible”.
In all 21 people were killed and 182 injured in two bomb blasts which ripped apart the Mulberry Bush pub and the Tavern in the Town in November of that year, in what was the worst terror attack carried out on mainland Britain until the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.
A year after the blasts, the Birmingham Six: Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker, were convicted for carrying out the bombings but their convictions were quashed on appeal in 1991.
The Court of Appeal ruled after it was found the men’s original statements had been altered, and forensic evidence supposedly linking two of them to the explosives was unsafe.
Mrs Hambleton said: “All we have ever wanted is the truth.
“They say the truth will free us all.
“But with the truth should come, as a natural consequence, justice.
“It’s as simple as that.”