A Belfast man who lost three loved ones in the Shankill bomb said the weekend commemoration for IRA bomber Thomas Begley made “a very tough week a lot tougher”.
Charlie Butler, 64, rushed to Frizzell’s fish shop following the explosion on October 23, 1993 which killed nine innocent Protestants.
He said he will never forget searching through the rubble for survivors and seeing the body of 13-year-old Leanne Murray.
He later discovered the horror that his niece Evelyn Baird, her partner Michael Morrison, and her child Michelle Baird, aged just seven, were among the victims.
IRA man Thomas Begley died after the device he was carrying exploded prematurely when he the shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993.
A second bomber, Sean Kelly, survived the blast and was prosecuted for his role in the mass murder.
Mr Kelly spoke at a controversial commemoration for Begley at the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery on Saturday attended by around 200 people, among them Mr Begley’s father and a number of high-profile republicans including Bobby Storey and Sean ‘Spike’ Murray.
Paying tribute to Mr Begley, Mr Kelly told the crowd: “The motives for our actions have been misrepresented, but I know that is of little consequence for the families of those civilians who lost their lives on the Shankill that day.
“I am truly sorry for the loss of life and injuries suffered on that day, but there is nothing I can say that can bring any comfort to the families of the victims.”
He said the event was a “dignified commemoration” and not a “glorification of the events of that awful day”.
Commenting on the memorial service, Mr Butler said: “It’s been a very tough week and that has just made it a lot tougher for everybody.
“[Sean Kelly’s] apology was very hollow I thought. The pupper masters were there, pulling the strings.
“He was reading off a statement. Why can’t they do what I do? If I go on TV or speak to a reporter I don’t have a statement prepared for me. I don’t need to, I speak from the heart. I don’t think he’s speaking from the heart.”
He added: “I think for the first time he actually said that they were victims which makes a change.
“I’ve been speaking to the families and we were all very disappointed in the Begley family. We understand they lost a son, but I think what they have to understand is their son took our families away. If it was the other way round what way would he be feeling?
“The same as Sean Kelly – he needs to look at himself, and if he has kids he needs to look at the kids when they’re seven and 13 and say to himself what would I have done if I’d lost them in that way.”
Mr Kelly earlier laid a wreath at a memorial plaque to Mr Begley and other IRA men in the cemetery.
The event also saw a piper play the Irish national anthem and local singer Terry ‘Cruncher’ O’Neill sing the republican ballad Down by The Glenside.
Sinn Fein councillor Seanna Walsh, a former IRA prisoner, also addressed the commemoration on Saturday.
He said there could be “no hierarchy of victims” as he paid tribute to Mr Begley.
“Everyone has a right to remember their dead in a respectful manner. The past will always be a contested space – there is no single narrative to any conflict, no matter where it happened in the world or at any time in history.”
Mr Walsh criticised the UK government, accusing it of “blocking” new investigatory and truth recovery mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles: “They don’t want the world to know what they did in our country.”
There were no Sinn Fein leadership figures at the event.