Northern Ireland news

IRA killer apologises to Shankill victims at controversial Begley memorial

IRA killer Sean Kelly (centre) attends a controversial commemoration at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast for his fellow Shankill Road bomber Thomas Begley, who died alongside the nine victims of the 1993 attack. Picture: PA
David Young

AN IRA killer injured in the Shankill bomb has apologised to the victims at an event commemorating the attack's perpetrator.

Sean Kelly, who was badly injured in the 1993 bombing, was the main speaker at a controversial commemoration in Belfast for Thomas Begley.

The 22-year-old IRA man died after the device he was carrying exploded prematurely when he entered Frizzell’s fish and chip shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993. Alongside Begley, nine people, including two children aged seven and 13, were killed.

The memorial event at the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast, which was attended by Sinn Féin members, had been strongly criticised by relatives of those murdered.

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Mr Kelly, who has said sorry for the attack in the past, used the latest anniversary 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.

Around 200 people attended Saturday's commemoration, 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.

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"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."

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 anthem and local singer Terry `Cruncher' O'Neill sing the republican ballad Down by The Glenside.

Sinn Féin 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."

There were no Sinn Féin leadership figures at the event, but speaking on Friday, president, Mary-Lou McDonald defended party members attending.

"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.

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

The families of those killed in the IRA atrocity gathered on the Shankill Road on Tuesday's 25th anniversary for a poignant service of remembrance.

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