Nationalist commentator Jude Collins has provoked outrage by claiming those killed in the Omagh bomb were not murdered.
In a blogpost published yesterday, on the 20th anniversary of the Real IRA atrocity, he said that as the terrorists “almost certainly did not intend” to kill innocent civilians then their deaths should not be classed as murder.
He said: “The victims of Omagh – my home town – are often spoken of as being murdered. There were events that occurred during the Troubles that were indeed murder – that is, the killers set out to and succeeded in killing innocent people.
“If we consider the pattern of events for some months before Omagh, the signs are that it wasn’t murder: the Real IRA didn’t set out to deliberately slaughter the good and defenceless people they did.”
Mr Collins, who was chosen by Sinn Fein to conduct an interview with Gerry Adams at the Féile an Phobail last week, added: “The bereaved of Omagh have never been short of sympathy. But they have been starved of truth. And although it’s an academic point, their loved ones were slaughtered but not murdered.”
Omagh UUP councillor Chris Smyth described the remarks as “beneath contempt.”
Commenting specifically about the commentator’s claim that the 29 people killed in the August 1998 blast were not murdered, Cllr Smyth said: “This is a defence even the parents of the members of the Real IRA gang that bombed Omagh would struggle to sustain.
“The facts are as follows. They assembled a bomb. They drove it for miles passing through villages and traffic until they arrived at a market town on a Saturday afternoon. They telephoned a warning giving the wrong location. As a result, people were funnelled down Omagh High Street into the path of the bomb and 29 innocent people lost their lives along with unborn twins.”
Cllr Smyth added: “If you build a bomb, transport it to a town and abandon it on a busy shopping street, and it detonates creating multiple innocent victims, then the only word for that is murder. Jude Collins’s comments in seeking to minimise the enormity of the horror visited on Omagh are beneath contempt.”
SDLP councillor Máiría Cahill was one of those who expressed disgust at the timing of the article.
She said: “Have just read Jude Collins blog on Omagh. The piece in itself is deliberately controversial – but to put it up on the anniversary is particularly cruel. Why the BBC continue to pay him contributors fees is beyond me.”
One Twitter user said: “Jude. Really? Today?? Take a look at yourself. You used to be better than this.”
Another posted the message: “Wow. This article is so far beneath contempt it almost defies belief.
Mr Collins is no stranger to controversy and has frequently provoked outrage amongst unionists.
Following a parade by masked dissident republicans in Lurgan in May 2016, he made a comparison between the dissidents and the Boys’ Brigade.
Posting an image of a BB march on social media, he commented: “Why is ‘brigade’ in its title? And why do they march, military style? The BB is a ‘brigade’, it marches, it wears uniforms and berets...odd echoes of something there…”
At the time, the Boys’ Brigade called on Mr Collins to withdraw his remarks and to apologise.