A councillor whose uncle was murdered by a booby-trap bomb has fiercely condemned the opening of books of condolence to Martin McGuinness, and suggested that victims may be so appalled that they will take matters into their own hands.
Paul Berry, independent councillor for Armagh, Craigavon and Banbridge, was reacting to the proliferation of condolence books across the country.
A trio of TUV councillors in Causeway Coast and Glens have also voiced strong objections to the development.
A book of condolence was opened in Stormont on Wednesday, while Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston (a DUP councillor, Methodist, and member of both the Orange Order and Royal Black Preceptory) was first to sign a newly-opened book in Belfast City Hall the same day.
Among those signing the Belfast book was Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle, the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast (a position which means she is the Queen’s representative in the city).
The previous day DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock, mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, had opened a book in Londonderry’s Guildhall.
Mr Berry, a former DUP MLA who is now an independent, described the “real” Mr McGuinness as having been “an unrepentant IRA man who choose the path of death and destruction”.
“My heart goes put to the victims who have to listen to him being portrayed by the great and the good in society as this great peacemaker,” he said.
In 1993 his uncle Reginal Williamson, a reserve policeman, had been fatally blown up by an under-car bomb after returning from an evening out in Moy, Co Tyrone.
According to the book ‘Lost Lives’, his girlfriend happened to have been travelling behind him in another car at the time it detonated.
Just over a decade earlier, Mr Williamson’s brother (plus a female prison officer) had been murdered by the INLA.
Mr Berry said the praise for Mr McGuinness was so “despicable” that relatives of IRA victims “may well take appropriate action to take a stand for what is right and proper for their loved ones”.
Asked what he had in mind, he told the News Letter that he had talked to some relatives who suggested they may go and physically remove the books of condolence, or might write their own messages inside concerning what they had gone through.
“I’ve told victims today that it’s up to them; whatever they do I’ll fully support. The chief executive’s fully aware of my views as well...
“Whatever the victims do, I 100% support them, whether that’s physically removing the book or writing their own personal messages in it, I’m there to support them.”
Meanwhile, TUV councillors Boyd Douglas and William Blair and Alderman Sharon McKillop issued a joint statement which said the opening of a book in their council area was “an unnecessarily divisive act”.
“It is insulting to many victims of IRA violence who have had to listen to nauseating praise of someone whose wicked terrorist organisation visited death and destruction upon many families in Ulster,” they said.
“Quite apart from the suffering of those who lost loved ones and those who carry the physical scars to this day, there are many families across Northern Ireland where invisible physiological wounds cause anguish.
“In many cases this is only known about by those who are closest to them.
“We do not recall the council opening a book of condolence to mark the passing of an IRA victim after years of suffering.”
They said the decision to open the book should now be reviewed, and should have been put before councillors in the first place before opening it.
Asked his own views on the Belfast book, Mr Kingston said: “At a personal level, like many others, I look back on his life with very mixed feelings.
“Martin McGuinness will be remembered for his involvement in an appalling campaign of violence and terrorism which took the lives of many hundreds of people in this city, across Northern Ireland and elsewhere, and which adversely affected the lives of thousands more.
“He will also be remembered for involvement in democratic politics and the rejection of violence, rising to become the deputy first minister of Northern Ireland for 10 years.
“So he will remain associated with terrible suffering but also with peaceful and political process.
“It is his involvement in peaceful and democratic politics that was acknowledged by the council in the opening of the book of condolence.”