Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald defends commemoration for IRA Shankill bomber Thomas Begley

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has defended party members attending a commemoration to Shankill bomber Thomas Begley days after victims' families marked the 25th anniversary of the blast.

The memorial event has been strongly criticised by relatives of the nine Shankill bomb victims who earlier this week gathered to remember their loved ones.

Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald and IRA Shankill bomber, Thomas Begley.

Sinn Fein President, Mary Lou McDonald and IRA Shankill bomber, Thomas Begley.

Sinn Fein members are expected to attend the tribute which is to take place at Belfast's Milltown Cemetery on Saturday.

It comes as the family of Mr Begley insisted they are attending the commemoration despite earlier media reports that suggested they were snubbing the event.

Mr Begley died, along with the nine victims, after the bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely when he entered a fish shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993.

Earlier this week, hundreds of people from across the communities of Northern Ireland came together for a church service to mark the 25th anniversary of the bomb.

People gathered to remember the nine victims, including two young girls, who were killed when the IRA bomb detonated inside Frizzell's fish shop.

Victims from other atrocities during Northern Ireland's past, including the Ballymurphy massacre, attended in a show of solidarity with the Shankill families.

A number of posters advertising Saturday's tribute event have been put up in Belfast.

Speaking in Dublin on Friday, the Sinn Fein leader said events of remembrance are "difficult and sensitive".

"I have consistently said that for us to respect each other and for us to begin the process of healing and reconciliation, we have to allow for remembrance by everybody, by all sides," Ms McDonald said.

"That includes, in this case, the loved ones and families of those who were killed in the bomb and that includes Thomas Begley.

"I know that creates a difficulty for people, it creates controversy but the truth is for us really to begin the process of putting the conflict to rest and creating a healing environment we have to allow for remembrance on all sides and I'm saying that very conscious of the fact that creates a sensitivity and difficulty for many people."

Meanwhile, Mr Begley's family confirmed they will attend the commemoration.

In a statement issued to the Press Association, his father Billy Begley senior said: "I and my members of my family will be in attendance at the dignified and respectful commemoration in memory of our son Thomas being held tomorrow (Saturday) at the Republican Plot in Belfast.

"I am asking media to respect the privacy of our family home at this difficult time."