Victims of the Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing have slammed the new chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council for his apparent reluctance to directly condemn the bloodbath himself – and praise an IRA gunman reputed to have murdered dozens of innocent people.
In an interview with the Impartial Reporter, Sinn Fein councillor Stephen McCann said he could not denounce the IRA atrocity which killed 11 people and injured 63 in 1987.
“People in my community have suffered as well and you can get into this thing of do you condemn this and do you condemn that?” he said.
“We are talking about an incident that happened 30 years ago, albeit still very raw in people’s minds and all the rest,” he told the newspaper. “But how do you move forward?
“Do you dwell on the past? How do you bring this forward?”
Asked again if he condemned the atrocity, Mr McCann, who was five at the time of the bombing, said: “You see, you can go down this road of condemning this and commending that, and commending this and condemning that.
“But it was wrong and Sinn Fein came out at the time and said it was wrong.
“I am happy with that.”
However Mr McCann praised Seamus McElwaine, the former IRA gunman shot dead by the SAS in 1986 as he and Sean Lynch, now a Sinn Fein MLA, tried to ambush an Army patrol near Rosslea.
“It’s people like Seamus McElwaine who has made it possible for people like me to come forward and do what I have to do without having to worry about going to jail,” he said.
Asked if he believed the IRA violence was right, Mr McCann said: “People at the time took a decision as what the best way was to defend themselves, initially.”
As council chairman, he says he now pledges to “meet as many groups as I can” and that to “move forward and to build bridges you have to understand where people come from”.
But Stephen Gault, whose father Samuel was killed in the bomb, was deeply hurt.
“To say I’m insulted and hurt is an understatement,” he said.
“For the chairman of our local council not to condemn such an act of premeditated murder is disgusting - and yet he sees fit to glorify terrorist McElwaine who murdered some 30 innocent people in Fermanagh.
“Sinn Fein continually talk about ‘respect, equality, moving forward together’ and yet can’t condemn such an act of terrorism is beyond me.
“Even more hurtful towards those who had a loved one murdered or injured that day is that this is the 30th anniversary year of the Enniskillen Poppy Day bombing; the chairman’s comments are shameful.”
Aileen Quinton, whose mother Alberta also died in the blast, said she was not surprised.
“Evil people refusing to condemn evil and glorifying the perpetrators is no surprise,” she said.
UUP MLA Rosemary Barton said Mr McCann’s comments “reveal a wicked and deeply flawed sense of reality”.
The Poppy Day bombing was “a crime against humanity” with even An Phoblacht calling it “a monumental error” she said. “McElwaine was one of the most evil of all the IRA’s hitmen, creeping up and shooting innocent people when they were at their most vulnerable, before then cowardly running away into hiding again.”
Kenny Donaldson, of the South East Fermanagh Foundation, said: “Stephen McCann’s comments represent further evidence that Sinn Fein/PIRA are unprepared to deal openly and generously with the terror and wrong they visited upon their neighbours”.