SDLP MLA hits out at ‘kneejerk’ reaction to ex-IRA bomber joining victims’ panel

Dolores Kelly, above, said unionists were being 'disingenuous' in calling for the commissioner to quit. She is pictured here with commissioner Judith Thompson last year.
Dolores Kelly, above, said unionists were being 'disingenuous' in calling for the commissioner to quit. She is pictured here with commissioner Judith Thompson last year.

A senior SDLP MLA claims there has been a “kneejerk reaction” to news that an IRA bomber was able to join the Victims & Survivors Forum.

The party’s justice spokesperson Dolores Kelly said Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson had no reason to resign after it was revealed Robert McClenaghan, a man who admitted in a documentary it was his “daily job to plant bombs across Belfast”, joined the victims forum.

Mr McClenaghan was appointed to the forum in 2017 because his grandfather Philip Garry was killed in the UVF McGurk’s Bar bombing in 1971.

The victims forum profile of Mr McClenaghan says that “for the past 25 years Robert has campaigned to establish what happened that night and hopes that others can learn from his experience of seeking acknowledgment, truth and justice, if they wish.”

At no point does the profile mention that Mr McClenaghan served 12 years in jail for IRA bomb offences.

Another member of the victims’ forum – Jackie Nichol, a pensioner whose 17-month-old son was killed in an IRA bomb on the Shankill Road – resigned after he learnt Mr McClenaghan was on the same body.

TUV leader Jim Nicholson and former UUP MP Lord Kilclooney led calls for Victims Commissioner Judith Thompson to step down over the issue.

SDLP’s Dolores Kelly responded: “It seems to me to be a kneejerk reaction.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise for any unionists that someone who was both a victim and a perpetrator was on the victims forum.

“I think we all know many people who chose to get involved in the conflict because of something that happened to their family.

“The 2006 definition of a victim allows for that.”

Of the calls for Mrs Thompson to step down, she said: “I really think those people (calling for her to resign) are being disingenuous.

“To date, all I’ve heard is praise from all corners into how Judith Thompson has represented the forum and conducted herself in her role.

“She has made life uncomfortable for politicians in terms of her championing the cause of the victims and survivors groups.”