Lord Kilclooney in Twitter spat with daughter of UVF bombing victim

Pat Irvine's mother Kathleen was killed in the McGurk's bar bombing in 1971
Brendan Hughes

A FORMER unionist minister has refused to apologise to the daughter of a woman killed in the McGurk’s bar bombing for declaring the UVF attack was an IRA ‘own goal’.

John Taylor, now cross-bench peer Lord Kilclooney, was publicly challenged by Pat Irvine over his comments made shortly after the north Belfast bomb blast in 1971.

The UVF attack, which killed 15 people, brought about the single biggest loss of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles until the Omagh bombing in 1998.

Acting on advice, the then Stormont minister wrongly said the atrocity was an IRA bomb that exploded prematurely inside the bar.

Victims’ families have said the claim compounded their grief as it prompted speculation the dead might have included IRA members carrying the device.

Relatives have been engaged in a long campaign to clear their loved ones’ names and set the record straight.

In a lengthy exchange on Twitter, the former Ulster Unionist deputy leader repeatedly refused to apologise for his 1971 statement – and instead criticised Ms Irvine.

“You do yourself disservice by politicising the subject and lose sympathy,” he said.

It comes weeks after the peer was forced to clarify comments on Twitter in which he said nationalists and unionists “are not equals”.

Ms Irvine was just 14 years old when her mother Kathleen Irvine was killed in the explosion in December 1971. Speaking to The Irish News last night, she said the Twitter exchange was the first time she had been in contact with Lord Kilclooney since the devastating bombing.

The 60-year-old from north Belfast said: “I wanted him to say to me, ‘Yes you’re right, it was wrong’, but he wouldn’t admit to it.

“The man to me was in denial. He didn’t want to say he was wrong.

“At the end of it I thought to myself, I feel sorry for that man. I really do feel sorry for him.”

Ms Irvine said it was “pointless” speaking to the veteran politician.

“He just kept repeating himself, saying he was doing a job and that’s it. There is no point in getting in touch with that man again,” she said.

The heated Twitter exchange happened at the weekend after Lord Kilclooney tweeted: “Where have all my Irish republican friends today? I am missing them!!!”

In response, Ms Irvine questioned his comments about the McGurk’s bar bombing, adding: “46 years of victimisation, harassment and discrimination administered towards the victims’ families. Because of your statements.”

But Lord Kilclooney said: “I have already made it clear as minister, substituting for the home affairs minister, I was advised by the secretariat what to say.”

While Ms Irvine did not suggest the peer had lied, she insisted the families of victims were entitled to an apology. 

However, he said: “I have not told lies and have therefore no reason to apologise. I acted in good faith.”

Ms Irvine said: “The evidence is now in public domain.”

Lord Kilclooney responded: “You do yourself disservice by politicising the subject and lose sympathy.”

Ms Irvine asked him to meet with families of the victims, but he refused.

Lord Kilclooney could not be contacted last night for comment.

He recently also faced criticism for remarks on Twitter in which he claimed unionists and nationalists are not political equals.

Explaining his comments later, he said: “What I’m saying is that all people, nationalists in particular, must have equal opportunity with everyone else.

“But when it comes to equality, which is the word used by Sinn Féin, they are a political minority in Northern Ireland.”

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