Victims have slammed Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for calling a man convicted of a string of IRA terror offences “a hero”.
Mr McGuinness was the keynote speaker at a hunger strike memorial event for Thomas McElwee in Bellaghy on Sunday.
McElwee was arrested after a premature explosion in an IRA attack in 1976 which cost him the sight of one eye.
When he died on hunger strike he was serving 20 years for a Ballymena fire-bomb attack in which 26-year-old Yvonne Dunlop was burnt alive in her clothes shop.
On the anniversary of his death, on Saturday, Mr McGuinness tweeted: “Remembering brave Irish Republican Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee who died in Long Kesh 8th August 1981. #Hero”
On Monday he added: “Honoured to be in Bellaghy y’day with the family of Republican Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee & to address local commemoration in his honour.”
Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United said: “Thomas McElwee, like all others who has died (irrespective of the circumstances), has a family and we are mindful of their right to remember him in a private and dignified manner.
“But what we do not and will not accept are public shows of terrorism idolatry. In describing Thomas McElwee as a ‘hero,’ this is what the Deputy First Minister is promoting.
“Let’s be clear; Thomas McElwee was a convicted terrorist with a substantive history of terrorist criminal activity – he was a renowned serial bomber. Heroes are people who risks themselves for the safety of others.”