Church informed on bomb memorial ‘a year in advance’

The new memorial to the 12 victims of the IRA's 1987 Remembrance Sunday bomb as it was unveiled on 8 November 2017 in Enniskillen. It was removed and put into storage soon after it was unveiled. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire
The new memorial to the 12 victims of the IRA's 1987 Remembrance Sunday bomb as it was unveiled on 8 November 2017 in Enniskillen. It was removed and put into storage soon after it was unveiled. Pic: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Victims of the 1987 Enniskillen bomb say they had “countless” conversations with the Catholic Church confirming the location for a memorial over the past 12 months - apparently contradicting clerical claims it was first brought to their attention in September.

The Enniskillen victims expressed anger on November 8 when a memorial unveiled to mark the 30th anniversary of the bomb was immediately removed as the Catholic trust, which owns the land, said it was not given enough time to make necessary legal arrangements.

Stephen Gault who lost his father Samuel Gault in the Enniskillen Poppy Day Bomb with his wife Sharon during the service at the unveiling and dedication of the controversial memorial.

Stephen Gault who lost his father Samuel Gault in the Enniskillen Poppy Day Bomb with his wife Sharon during the service at the unveiling and dedication of the controversial memorial.

Sharon Gault, whose husband Stephen lost his father in the bomb, says the couple had “countless” amiable discussions about the location for the memorial with priest Monsignor Peter O’Reilly over the past 12 months. He is also chair of the trust which owns the land.

The architectural consultant behind the memorial, Neil Irvine, has shown the News Letter the official notification for the proposal which he sent to the church trust in January this year.

He did this after receiving the green light from the Gaults and other families.

However, the church has told the News Letter it has no record of receiving the notification.

It did not offer any comment on claims from the Gault family about discussions they had held with Msgr O’Reilly.

The cleric issued a statement to parishioners on Sunday in which he said the proposal that the new memorial be sited at the Clinton Centre in Enniskillen, on land owned by St Michael’s Diocesan Trust, “was first brought to our attention in September 2017”.

But Mrs Gault told the News Letter the couple had “countless conversations for the past 12 months as plans were progressing” with Msgr O’Reilly, during which time the location at the Clinton Centre – the actual 1987 bomb site – was confirmed with him.

Mrs Gault also claimed that they had spoken with Msgr O’Reilly around April 2017 to say the memorial was to be moved slightly on Clinton Centre land, away from a bin collection point, and that Msgr O’Reilly’s response was “very positive”.

She said Msgr O’Reilly was “well informed” before September 2017.

There was also major publicity and 3D images of the plans in the Enniskillen local press in January when the application was first lodged with planners, she added.

Msgr O’Reilly said he had “no record of receiving a notification” for the plans in January 2017.

But when contacted by the News Letter, architectural consultant Neil Irvine said he sent an official P2A planning form to church representatives responsible for the land, St Michael’s Diocesan Trust, in January. However the church says it was only notified about the application in September.

The P2A form, seen by the News Letter, was addressed to the trust’s postal address in Enniskillen and signed as January 9, 2017.

It stated that the applicant, The Ely Centre in Enniskillen, was proposing a ‘Remembrance Memorial’ on lands “adjacent east to the Clinton Centre, Belmore Street Enniskillen, BT74 6AA”.

Bill Clinton opened the ‘William Jefferson Clinton International Peace Centre’ in Enniskillen in 2002, on the site on which the Poppy Day bomb was detonated in 1987.

Mr Irvine said his architectural consultancy had been operating since 2005 and used the P2A form in every fifth or tenth planning application to notify third party land owners of planning applications in cases such as shared use lane ways.

Asked if he had ever been in a situation before where a planning application had run into such problems with a P2A form, he said he had not.

St Michael’s Diocesan Trust told the News Letter it “accepts the assurance of the Ely Centre that proper protocols and procedures were followed with regard to planning.

“However, the Trust has no record of receiving a notification. The application for permission to site the memorial on Trust property was received on 26 September 2017.

“We do not wish to comment any further on this matter.”

The Catholic Church has said issues remaining to be resolved include legal implications for the lease, the views of the tenant, health and safety issues and proposed expansion work to the building.

Meanwhile, former IRA letter bomber Shane Paul O’Doherty said he was shocked when almost 2,000 people reacted to his recent tweet about the row.

On November 10 Mr O’Doherty tweeted a picture of an Irish flag on Martin McGuinness’ coffin in church, and said: “Catholic Church has no problem with IRA Honours for Martin McGuinness funeral on Church property, but big problem with Enniskillen Victims’ memorial!!! Equality? Integrity? Respect?”

Mr O’Doherty claimed it had been “easy” for Catholic Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown to scrap regulations on paramilitary displays in churches in time for Mr McGuinness’ funeral rites.

He said: “The prophetic voice of the Catholic church has been silenced as church leaders cosy up to paramilitaries without so much as a warning about lies, evil and failure to repent - they seek ‘selfies’ with paramilitary leaders.”

The church failed, he said, to offer its usual pastoral letter on rights “for the unborn and victims of violence” while Sinn Fein debates its “bill of rights” at Stormont with the DUP.

The church offered no response to him.