Plans by republicans to stage a commemoration rally for the Shankill Road bomber Thomas Begley have infuriated relatives of victims killed in the IRA attack.
A plaque is due to be unveiled close to his home in Belfast’s neighbouring Ardoyne area later this month - the 20th anniversary of one of Northern Ireland’s worst terrorist outrages.
Begley, 22, killed himself and nine others, all Protestants, when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely at Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993.
The intended target was a flat above where loyalist paramilitaries were expected to gather. But the meeting was rescheduled. A second IRA man, Sean Kelly, who was with Begley at the time, was pulled from the rubble from the collapsed building. He was later jailed for life, but released early as part of the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
John Scott, whose niece Wilma McKee, 36, was among the dead said on Monday: “These people are sick. How they can they do this? It is unbelievable.”
Tensions in that part of north Belfast are already high because of an ongoing protest by Orangemen who were refused permission to parade along a stretch of road at Ardoyne on their way back from the Orange Order’s annual Twelfth of July march in Belfast.
Friends and former republican associates of Begley have defended the decision to go ahead with the commemoration on October 20. The loyalist UVF hold a commemoration parade every year on the Shankill Road for Brian Robinson, 27, a gunman shot dead by an undercover woman soldier, just after he opened fire from the back of a speeding motorcycle and killed Paddy McKenna, 40, a Catholic in September 1989.
Mrs McKee, who had recovered from cancer, had just left an adjoining fruit shop when she caught the full force of the blast as her husband Brian, and their two sons, Craig and Brian Jnr, waited in the family car for her return. She died the following day.
Mr Scott, an Ulster Unionist on Newtownabbey Borough Council, said he was astounded. He added: “It’s an absolute disgrace. They give no thought for the families. There should be no commemoration either for Brian Robinson. It is wrong. It is wrong of both sides.
“People are hurt enough. Brian (McKee) and the boys have got on with their lives. They’ve never got into trouble. It’s the same with Wilma’s parents. They still go through hell, but you can imagine the hell they’ll be going through with this.
“People should be allowed to remember their dead, including the family of Thomas Begley. But do they have to come unto the streets to show it. Tensions are high enough. It is terrible and I don’t know where it’s going to end.”
Sinn Fein has made no comment on the commemoration.
But the North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said it was important the party declared where it stood on the issue, especially in the aftermath of a republican commemoration parade in Castlederg in August, which angered families of many victims killed by the IRA in that particular part of west Tyrone.
Mr Dodds said: “This was a man prepared to walk into a crowded fish shop and place a bomb with an 11 second fuse on the counter. It was a cold blooded choice which would inevitably take the lives of innocent people. His actions are not to be celebrated but should be a source of shame. There is no place in Northern Ireland for the glorification of killers such as Thomas Begley.”