Arlene Foster has slammed republicans over attempts to differentiate between IRA bombs in Manchester and the Islamic extremist attack in the city earlier this week.
Following Monday’s suicide bomb blast that killed 22 people in the Manchester Arena, Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill provoked a furious backlash when she said it was “unthinkable” that young people would have to experience a terrorist bomb while out enjoying themselves.
Last month Ms O’Neill was the guest speaker at an event to commemorate eight IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1987 while bombing a rural police station in Co Armagh.
In a statement in the aftermath of Monday’s suicide bombing she said: “The attack at the Manchester Arena which has left 22 dead and injured so many others was horrific and I condemn it.”
Speaking during an election canvass in Co Antrim, DUP leader Mrs Foster said: “Of course she has condemned Manchester, my goodness who wouldn’t.”
The former Stormont first minister added: “Then you have to reflect on the fact that only a few weeks ago she was in Loughgall commemorating those who were going out to murder. I think that’s where the hypocrisy lies in all of this.”
As a teenager, Mrs Foster was on a school bus blown up by the IRA.
Some republicans have insisted the IRA’s actions in Manchester were different because they issued bomb warnings.
“I was on a bus that didn’t have any warning in terms of being blown up. So it is just a nonsense to talk about the fact that there were warnings given in every sort of circumstances,” Mrs Foster added.
Yesterday, leading Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott and former co-chair of the NI Conservatives Trevor Ringland added their voices to those calling on Sinn Fein to finally say that all terrorism is unjustifiable.
Mr Elliott said: “Terrorism in all its forms is reprehensible but to deliberately target children, mums and dads as they enjoy a night out is vile and the lowest of the low. There is no cause that can justify it.”
The Fermanagh/South Tyrone election candidate added: “We have seen the terrible consequences of the radicalisation of young Muslims and by Sinn Fein leaders continuing to romanticise the actions of the IRA we cannot underestimate the impact that it has on young people in Northern Ireland. Only a few weeks ago Michelle O’Neill was eulogising and glorifying some of the IRA’s most ruthless terrorists. This has to end or else we risk creating a whole new generation who think that terrorism in some circumstances is OK. It isn’t. Period.”
Trevor Ringland said: “The IRA campaign was wrong and unjustified. We need to hear loudly and clearly from Sinn Fein that they accept it was wrong and unjustified, whether it was 1996 or 2017. The equivocation of the republican movement is hypocritical. It is very important for future generations that we challenge them on this hypocrisy.”
Commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards was another of those outraged by the Sinn Fein leader’s reaction to the latest Islamic extremist attack.
“This is spectacular hypocrisy,” she said earlier this week.
“I mean really, does she take the people of Northern Ireland for fools? What is the difference?” Ms Dudley Edwards added.
A number of News Letter readers also wrote to this newspaper accusing the Sinn Fein leader of hypocrisy.
One said: “How ironic, to say they are sorry for the people of Manchester, when they bombed the city themselves. Their hypocrisy knows no limits.”
On Thursday, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy said those levelling criticism at his party were playing “political games”.
He said: “Let’s actually send our solidarity to the people of Manchester and let’s work together on this island to ensure we never have to revisit some of the darker days of the past.”