Today marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most notorious atrocities of the Troubles. The IRA’s Shankill bomb of October 23, 1993 claimed the lives of nine innocent people and Thomas Begley, one of an IRA terror team whose device exploded in Frizzell’s fish shop.
Of the countless atrocities committed during the Troubles, the Shankill bomb will always be regarded with particular revulsion. There are similarities with the Real IRA bomb at Omagh almost five years later in the way a device exploded as unsuspecting shoppers went about their business on a busy Saturday.
As our supplement in today’s paper underlines, the pain shouldered by the victims and their families remains acute to this very day. Indeed, that pain and sense of not having received justice has been exacerbated by the release and continued liberty of Sean Kelly, the second member of the IRA team that day who, unlike Begley, survived the blast.
It was painful enough for the families that Kelly, given nine life sentences for murder, was released from prison under the terms of the Belfast Agreement after serving just seven years, but worse still that the republican was recalled to prison by the then secretary of state Peter Hain in 2005 amid claims he had been involved in terrorism once again. It has caused further grief to victims like Michelle Williamson, who lost both her parents in the Shankill bomb, that Kelly remains free despite also since being arrested – but not charged – for a string of further terror offences. For the victims, his public apology at a 20-year anniversary event in Ardoyne in 2013 still rings hollow, not least because there were commemorations that day for Begley who Kelly, appallingly, described as a “good” and “brave” IRA volunteer.
At the same event republicans also unveiled a plaque in honour of Begley, a terrorist responsible for mass murder. It is no wonder that Michelle Williamson and others like her say they have never been granted the space to grieve.