Families of Shankill bomb victims yesterday held a peaceful protest close to the staging of an IRA commemoration to bomber Sean Begley in Ardoyne.
The 20-minute commemoration was held to unveil a plaque to IRA bomber Thomas ‘Bootsey’ Begley.
The bomber’s father – Billy Begley – unveiled the controversial plaque.
It has been reported that Begley’s father mentioned the pain of the people of the Shankill Road as he completed the unveiling ceremony yesterday at 2pm.
Mr Begley said there was no intention to cause offence by holding the commemoration, saying he understood the pain felt by victims’ families.
The plaque states that the bomber “died on active service” and is “always remembered by his many comrades and friends”.
It also includes a quote from the former IRA leader, Seamus Twomey.
The crowd was also addressed by Sean Kelly, the IRA man who was with Begley on the day and survived the bomb.
Kelly told the crowd that he was “truly sorry” for the loss of civilian life in the 1993 attack.
Meanwhile, the peaceful protest by victims’ relatives was held a short distance from the commemoration.
Charlie Butler – an uncle of Evelyn Baird, 27, and her seven-year-old daughter Michelle who were killed in the bomb – said hundreds of people had joined their peaceful protest against the commemoration of the bomber.
He said they were all “disgusted that a security alert started when a device was thrown into the area” – but he said “it did not put us off”.
“We started our protest here at 2pm, the same time as the commemoration of the bomber,” he said.
“We stood at Cambria Street and Flax Street at the junction of the Crumlin Road. But then we were moved onto Cambria street.
“Their commemoration is at the other end of Flax Street, but there is a barricade there. We just want a peaceful protest in disgust at what they are doing. I mean, they murdered women, pensioners and children.
“Everyone is angry at something being thrown. It was thrown for a reason, but they won’t scare us off.
“They have already taken the lives of our loved ones and that won’t scare us off.”
Standing alongside Mr Butler, Gina Murray – whose 13-year-old daughter Leanne was murdered in the bomb – said she had “hoped to get up facing Flax street to make sure they [those attending the commemoration] would see us.
“But they can’t.”
Mrs Murray said the bomb alert which was ongoing during the protest “is not deterring anybody”.
She added: “Not after everything we have come through.”
Later the PSNI said the suspect device on the Crumlin Road had been declared a hoax.
Earlier Sean Begley, a brother of Thomas, told the News Letter that his family had not been involved in producing the flyer or the plaque tribute.
But he said his family would be attending the memorial service to mark the 20th anniversary of his brother’s death.
Alliance MP Naomi Long condemned the commemoration.
She said: ““Victims must be shown respect and sensitivity, something that this event has failed to do.
The East Belfast representative added: “It is also clear that lessons have not been learnt from the Castlederg parade, which also caused great hurt and upset.”