Nationalist councillors have joined unionists in calling for a Sinn Fein council chairman to apologise over comments he made about the Enniskillen Remembrance Day bombing.
Ulster Unionist, DUP and SDLP councillors staged a walkout of a Fermanagh and Omagh District Council meeting on Thursday evening after demanding an apology from Cllr Stephen McCann.
Sinn Fein’s view of respect, equality and integrity is clearly very different from mineSDLP councillor John Coyle
The controversial remarks were made during an interview with the Impartial Reporter newspaper.
Cllr McCann is quoted as saying he would “not go down the road of condemning” the Enniskillen attack which killed 11 people and injured 63 others, many seriously.
He added: “People in my community have suffered as well and you can get into this thing of do you condemn this and do you condemn that? We are talking about an incident that happened 30 years ago”.
Cllr McCann did, however, describe November 8, 1987 as a “dreadful day” and that the attack was “wrong.”
He added: “Sinn Fein came out at the time and said it was wrong. I am happy with that.”
Those words did not go far enough for both the unionists and the SDLP who made their feeling known at the Enniskillen Town Hall meeting, and in the media afterwards.
SDLP councillor and former council chair Mary Garrity said: “The problem with the answer the councillor has given in the chair of the council is that it has hurt some many people.
“This is a very sensitive issue. It is the 30th anniversary year of the atrocity of the Enniskillen bomb – this is our first citizen. When this hurt has come out, we must make the chairman aware of what he has done, and give him the opportunity to apologise to the people he has hurt, and perhaps hurt without any intention, but still that hurt is there.”
Cllr Garrity told the BBC Talkback programme she will continue to attend council meetings, but added: “He will not be a chair that will represent everyone if he does not resolve this...and that’s not good for the district”.
Her SDLP colleague Councillor John Coyle branded Mr McCann’s remarks “disgusting”.
He added: “Sinn Fein talk about respect, equality and integrity. Well, their view of respect, equality and integrity is clearly very different from mine.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Howard Thornton had proposed the motion calling for an apology.
On Friday he told the News Letter the walkout was a “one night event” in protest at the chairman’s remarks “and the hurt that he has caused”.
Cllr Thornton said: “I know the grief that is still there, and the wounds that are still there, so to reopen the wounds coming up to the 30th anniversary with this atrocious interview – it is just despicable”.
He added: “The ball is in Sinn Fein’s court. We are elected to represent the people who voted for us, and all communities, and I must say that Enniskillen is a very good cross-community town, and that is acknowledged that the SDLP walked out with us last night.”
UUP councillor Robert Irvine said he took issue with the chairman’s comments about the bombing having taken place 30 years ago and that people have to move on.
“For his party, and several others on the republican side, still harp back to issues that happened 30, 40, 50 years ago looking for a resolution,” Cllr Irvine said.
Kenny Donaldson of Lisnaskea-based victims’ group SEFF said: “Our organisation and very many others are clear Cllr McCann is not fit to occupy the office”.
He said: “It’s one thing for councillors to walk out of the chamber in protest at his continued refusal to retract his comments – and we endorse that action – but that can’t be it ... if it is then it’s nothing more than a stunt”.
“SF/PIRA continually spout lines about equality, social justice, respect and reconciliation. The reality is that none of these principles form the teachings they have received.”
Mr Donaldson added: “Pressure must continue to mount upon Cllr McCann who surely has breached the code connected with holding council chairmanship – a role requiring representation for all the people of the district. Cllr McCann and his colleagues must move beyond their ‘ourselves alone’ mantra.”
In a subsequent interview with the Impartial Reporter, following the walkout, Cllr McCann said he “will continue to be a chair for all”.