There has been outrage after a woman linked with a top republican figure appeared to claim that IRA victim Ann Travers lied concerning her cancer.
Catherine Kelly’s comment on the website Twitter sparked condemnation from fellow web users, and caused upset for Mrs Travers herself.
When Sinn Fein were asked to respond to the remark by Ms Kelly – who is understood to be connected with Jim Cullen, the leader of the powerful American group Friends of Sinn Fein – the party stated that debate should never “descend into personal abuse”.
Ms Kelly (who also posted a re-tweet of a message linking IRA victim Lord Mountbatten to child abuse on Wednesday) had written the following:
“Ann Travers made a fool of herself stomping off Twitter in a fanfare then returning with her ‘cancer’ explanation. I rightly called her on it.”
When web users interpreted this to mean Ms Kelly believed Mrs Travers was lying about being sick, Ms Kelly demanded they “retract” their criticism.
But when questioned by the News Letter via Twitter over what exactly she was talking about, Ms Kelly responded by blocking the newspaper.
A formal complaint has been made to Sinn Fein over the issue by Dublin senator Mairia Cahill, who suggested it should be a watershed moment for dealing with “the abuse which some victims receive” on the internet.
Mrs Travers – sister of Catholic IRA victim Mary Travers (who was killed during a botched murder bid against her father) – was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2012. Another tumour was later found in her bowel.
She is currently awaiting more medical scans.
The remark about her cancer had been drawn to her attention by a friend.
“I don’t know why it actually upset me so much, but it just did,” she said last night.
“I don’t know what I’ve actually done to her.”
Mrs Travers left Twitter at the end of 2014, then came back on to the web service very briefly, before quitting altogether.
She said she had “just had enough of the nastiness I was reading, not even necessarily directed towards me”.
Asked how she interpreted Ms Kelly’s remark, Mrs Travers said it appeared she was “suggesting that I didn’t have cancer”. However, she could not be certain, and said Ms Kelly should simply explain what she meant.
“Maybe it’s just a poorly-worded Tweet,” she suggested.
Web users described the comment as “disgusting” and “cruel”.
Another branded it “a truly vulgar & distasteful tweet”.
Ms Kelly said in response to one Twitter user who had criticised her: “Please show us all this ‘faked cancer’ claim. Thank you!”
When the News Letter asked Ms Kelly directly if she could explain what she meant, she said: “Do you have a research dept? You need to go and read the tweets.”
She then blocked the News Letter’s Twitter’s account from following her, or from viewing her messages.
Mairia Cahill – who rose to prominence after claiming to have been sexually abused by a top IRA figure (although the man in question had been cleared) – said: “It is typical of the abuse some victims of the IRA receive on social media.
“Today, I complained formally and directly to the Sinn Fein party president via email, regarding named accounts.
“It is simply no longer acceptable for Sinn Fein to turn a blind eye to the abuse which some victims receive...
“Sinn Fein need to step up to the plate to stop their own members and supporters bullying people in their name.”
She also said she is meeting representatives of the company Twitter next week in Dublin, and will raise the issue.
When Ms Kelly’s remark was put to Sinn Fein, it said: “Online abuse is wrong.
“While the internet and social media sites can be used for the cut and thrust of online debate this should not descend into personal abuse.”
The party said anyone receiving online abuse should report it to the web provider or other relevant authorities.