A relative of victims killed by the Shankill bomb, who for the first time this week met the children of a man murdered by loyalists just days later, said he has found a new friendship through their trauma.
Charlie Butler, whose niece Evelyn Baird was murdered by the IRA bomb alongside her partner Michael Morrison and their daughter Michelle, met Mark Rodgers on Wednesday night after an emotional remembrance service marking the 20th anniversary of the Shankill bomb.
In the week that followed the bomb that claimed the lives on nine civilians and one of the two bombers, a further 14 people lost their lives.
Mark Rodgers’ father, also Mark, was shot dead in a hail of bullets while working at a cleansing depot in Belfast alongside his colleague James Cameron who also died.
Both Mark and Charlie this week took part in a UTV debate looking at the tragedy that enveloped Northern Ireland in those seven horrific days. Neither had met the other, nor did Charlie know they would be there.
He told the News Letter: “I spoke to Leanne (Mark’s sister) and asked if she was taking part in the programme. She said yes and when she told me her daddy was killed I could’ve dropped there and then. My heart just stopped. At the time we were so engrossed in our own grief that, to be honest, we didn’t know a lot of what was going on outside of that.”
Charlie and Mark shook hands and embraced on the show, and both acknowledged how helpful it was to share their experiences of pain and grief.
While the murders carried out by loyalists following the Shankill bomb were claimed to be reprisal attacks, relatives of those killed have long stated they did not want any retaliation. Charlie said it was important to have the opportunity to make that clear to other victims.
He said: “I told Mark ‘I am not here to be an apologist for anyone, but if someone told you they murdered your father in our name let me tell you they were wrong’.”
The week of horror, less than a year before the IRA called a ceasefire, was bookended with the Shankill bombing and the Greysteel pub murders.
Charlie said he had invited Mark and his family to keep in contact in the future, saying they are “the nicest people”.
He also commented on a wreath left by “the good people of Ardoyne” in the Shankill Remembrance Garden this week.
He said: “I had been lifted by the service and the community spirit around us, but when I saw the wreath that lifted me even more. There had to be some brave person to come from the Ardoyne to lay that wreath and we are grateful for that.”
UUP leader Mike Nesbitt, who walked with those gathered on the Shankill on Tuesday evening for a candlelit remembrance, said it is important that all those victims of terrorism – both loyalist and republican – are remembered this week.
“Now, we must not forget those who died because loyalists decided in their twisted logic to take more innocent lives in what they saw as revenge,” he said.
“Those acts were not carried out in my name, or in the name of my party, and I encourage all our citizens to reflect on the dark week Northern Ireland endured 20 years ago, and the continuing burden being carried by the families of those who died.”
While there are outstanding issues on how to deal with our past, Mr Nesbitt urged everyone to come together to remember the lives lost this week 20 years ago.