Northern Ireland news

Call for penalties for 'romanticising violence' following IRA hunger striker tribute row

Kenny Donaldson of Innocent Victims United. Picture by Alan Lewis
Paul Ainsworth

Penalties for those who "romanticise violence" should be considered, a victims campaigner has said following a Sinn Féin online commemoration of IRA hunger striker Thomas McElwee.

Sinn Féin has come under fire for a tribute video posted to social media this week of McElwee, a Co Derry IRA member who died in 1981 in the Maze prison after 62 days without food.

The 23 year-old from Bellaghy was serving a 20-year sentence for the death of 26 year-old mother-of-three Yvonne Dunlop, who died in a firebomb attack on a Ballymena clothes shop in 1976.

McElwee had originally been charged with murder for his part in he bombing, but his charge was later reduced to manslaughter, though he was told he would still serve his full sentence.

The video posted to Sinn Féin's twitter account on Sunday, the 40th anniversary of his death, described McElwee as "kind and good natured", while Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill also posted a tribute to him, including the line "Fuair sé bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann", translated from Irish as "They died for Irish freedom".

Kenny Donaldson of the Innocent Victims United group said the tribute video "seeks to airbrush away the crimes" of the hunger strikers, and called for action against "terrorist idolatry".

"Sinn Féin really need to catch a grip, as do any of their fellow travellers who are seeking to revise history in an effort to retrospectively justify heinous actions committed," he said.

"The republican movement have account to make to those they murdered and maimed but they also have apologies to make to their own personnel who they taught to hate their own neighbour, and which resulted in their own death and/or incarceration in prison."

Mr Donaldson added: "Any new legacy process must deal with this matter of terrorism idolatry, there must follow penalties for those who romanticise violence; enough is enough. Terrorism and its' political annexes have been appeased for a quarter of a century and it must now cease."

Ms O'Neill and party colleagues were also condemned by UUP leader Doug Beattie said in a tweet: "The murderer is remembered not the victim," adding: "His name will forever be linked to that brutal murder regardless of Sinn Féin spin."

DUP MLA Pam Cameron described the Sinn Féin post as a "callous and shameless tweet", adding: "Not a thought for the victims of his crimes."

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