IRA killer in apology to Shankill victims at controversial memorial
An IRA killer said sorry to those bereaved by the Shankill bomb as he paid tribute to his fellow bomber who died alongside the nine victims of their attack.
Sean Kelly, who was badly injured in the 1993 outrage, was the main speaker at a controversial commemoration in Belfast for Thomas Begley, 25 years on from the bombing.
The 22-year-old IRA man died after the device he was carrying exploded prematurely when he entered a fish shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993.
The memorial event at the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast, which was attended by Sinn Fein members, had been strongly criticised by relatives of those murdered in the notorious blast.
Mr Kelly, who has said sorry for the attack in the past, used the latest anniversary event to reiterate his apology for what he described as an “IRA operation that went tragically wrong”.
At the time, the IRA claimed the bomb was meant to target loyalist paramilitaries they understood were meeting in rooms above Frizzell’s fish shop.
Two young children were among the nine murdered in the explosion.
Around 200 people attended the commemoration on Saturday, among them Mr Begley’s father Billy and a number of high profile republicans, including Bobby Storey and Sean “Spike” Murray.
Paying tribute to Mr Begley, who was known to friends as Bootsy, Mr Kelly told the crowd: “The motives for our actions have been misrepresented, but I know that is of little consequence for the families of those civilians who lost their lives on the Shankill that day.
“I am truly sorry for the loss of life and injuries suffered on that day, but there is nothing I can say that can bring any comfort to the families of the victims.
“Let me say, however, that today’s event is one of respectful and dignified commemoration of Bootsy – this is no glorification of the events of that awful day, but we stand in solidarity with Bootsy’s grieving family and we remember all of those who died during the conflict.
“So Bootsy, may you rest in peace – you were my friend, you were my comrade, and I will never forget you and I will cherish the times we had to together.”
Mr Kelly earlier laid a wreath at a memorial plaque to Mr Begley and other IRA men in the cemetery, standing for a moment of reflection before kneeling down, kissing his hand and placing it on the marble stone.
The event also saw a piper play the Irish national anthem Amhran na bhFiann and local singer Terry “Cruncher” O’Neill sing the republican ballad Down by The Glenside.
Sinn Fein councillor Seanna Walsh, a former IRA prisoner, also addressed the commemoration.
He said there could be “no hierarchy of victims” as he paid tribute to Mr Begley.
“Everyone has a right to remember their dead in a respectful manner,” he added. “The past will always be a contested space – there is no single narrative to any conflict, no matter where it happened in the world or at any time in history.”
Mr Walsh also criticised the UK Government, accusing it of “blocking” new investigatory and truth recovery mechanisms to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
“They don’t want the world to know what they did in our country,” he added.
There were no Sinn Fein leadership figures at the event.
The families of those killed in the atrocity gathered on the Shankill Road on Tuesday’s 25th anniversary for a poignant service of remembrance.