Victim: If O’Neill opposes war, then Sinn Fein should condemn IRA terrorism

A cleric who was left doubly bereaved by the IRA has questioned how sincere Michelle O’Neill is when she speaks of healing “wounds of the past”.

Monday, 12th July 2021, 7:57 am
Updated Monday, 12th July 2021, 2:55 pm
First Minister Paul Givan and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill attending a special Somme Ceremony of Commemoration in Dublin, to remember those who lost their lives in the battle. Ms O'Neill later told the BBC she opposes wars

Rev Alan Irwin, whose uncle and father –both UDR soldiers – were killed by the IRA was reacting to the Sinn Fein leader’s comments in the wake of her attendance at a Somme commemoration.

She joined DUP First Minister Paul Givan at the WWI remembrance event in Dublin on Saturday, and then the following morning was quizzed by Mark Carruthers of the BBC.

Ms O’Neill said: “I hope my attendance demonstrates my commitment to the principles of equality and parity of esteem for all identities.”

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She went on to say that “obviously, I don’t agree with wars” and that she aims to help “heal the wounds of the past”.

When Mr Carruthers questioned her about how unionists would view her actions, she repeatedly talked about how how much she values “inclusiveness”.

Rev Irwin’s uncle Fred (a council waste worker and part-time UDR soldier) was killed by the IRA in 1979 and then his father Thomas (a sewage plant worker and also a part-time UDR volunteer) was killed in 1986 by the group.

The Church of Ireland minister, who is based in Lack, Fermanagh, told the News Letter last night: “If she doesn’t agree with war, well and good. But what’s her actions in relation to terrorism, then?”

Rev Irwin added: “It just didn’t ring true to me. It just sounds hollow.”

In particular, Rev Irwin questioned why she has attended events “that celebrate terrorist activity”.

A WEDDING SHOOTING AND ANTI-AIRCRAFT ATTACK:

For example, here are just a handful of republican events which Michelle O’Neill has attended.

In 2017 she was the main speaker at a gathering in her home village of Clonoe to mark the 25th anniversary of the deaths of four IRA men shot dead by the SAS in 1992.

They had been caught red-handed using a huge anti-aircraft gun mounted on a lorry to machine-gun a village police station.

That same year she spoke at a commemoration for eight IRA men killed by the SAS as they tried to demolish Loughgall police station.

“Make no mistake about it – I will always remember and commemorate our patriot dead – and each of our fallen comrades who gave their lives for Irish freedom,” she said.

In 2019 she attended a memorial for Peadar McElvanna, a man who went on the run charged with arms offences before being killed by the Army.

He is arguably best known for having evaded conviction for shooting a soldier at a Co Meath church, moments after he had just got married.

And Ms O’Neill also attended the huge funeral of IRA intelligence man Bobby Storey last year, at which he was richly praised for his paramilitary acts.

‘TERROR RESPECTS NO CODE OR RULES’

Rev Irwin also said that there was no comparison whatsoever between the acts of a legal military, and the acts of those outside the law.

“A war is fought as a last resort,” he said.

“There are rights and wrongs as to how you do battle, a certain code of ethics in how you carry out war.

“You declare war on another nation, and you follow a just pattern and the Geneva Code.

“But terrorism has no regard for anything.

“I just think sometimes they do things as a token gesture to hopefully win over people that they’ve changed.”

Rev Irwin added: “It just rang with tokenism to me.

“If she is now genuinely seeking to heal the wounds of the past [and] the hurt that has been caused, one can only now but surmise that she’s going to come and ensure that the terrorists will reveal the necessary information and will encourage those who carried out such acts to turn themselves into the police.

“If you are genuine about this, we’d like to see the outworkings of that.

“Does she encourage those who’ve carried out such vile acts to admit their wrongdoing and acknowledge the terrorism was wrong, it was never right?”

He concluded that encouraging paramilitaries to “own up” to their acts would be a “first step”.

Neither of the two murders of Rev Irwin’s family were ever successfully prosecuted.

‘INCLUSIVENESS’:

Yesterday, the BBC’s Mark Carruthers pressed Michelle O’Neill about her attendance at a Somme commoration the day before, when she laid a green laurel wreath to remember those killed in the battle.

Asked if she was nervous about attending an event commemorating men who gave their lives serving in the British Army, she said: “Clearly I always have that wee bit of apprehension in my head.

“But I was very clear in speaking to the legion that they’re working really hard [in order to] try to make the event as inclusive as possible.

“The Battle of the Somme is where Irishmen from right across the island fought together...

“Obviously I don’t agree with wars.

“But I do think it’s important that we recognise the Battle of the Somme had a profound effect on so many people and that carried through so many generations.”

At one point, Mr Carruthers asked about her “I don’t agree with wars” comment.

He said: “What would you say to those in the unionist tradition who might feel that what you were involved in yesterday was on your part a hollow gesture, because even though you laid a wreath at that event you still presumably support the actions of the IRA during the Troubles.”

She replied: “I don’t think we need to distil this down into sort of ‘theirs’ and ‘ours’ sort of argument. For me this was an inclusive event ... I did it because I want to demonstrate my commitment to inclusiveness.”

She added: “Let’s reconcile our people, let’s heal the wounds of the past – that’s certainly what I am about.”

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