Pat Cullen should not have to apologise for a past she played no part in – Mary Kelly

Unionist demands for condemnation of IRA atrocities get us nowhere

Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly

Mary Kelly is an Irish News columnist and former producer of current affairs output on Radio Ulster and BBC NI political programme Hearts and Minds

General secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Pat Cullen has written to Health Secretary Victoria Atkins to voice her concerns
Former general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Pat Cullen is standing for election as a Sinn Féin MP in Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lucy North/PA)

When the despicable Enniskillen bomb attack was carried out by the IRA in 1987, killing 12 people – among them a student nurse, Marie Wilson, and a retired nurse, Alberta Quinton – Pat Cullen was a 22-year-old community nurse in west Belfast.

She was not a member of Sinn Féin back then, but spent the next decades building her career and eventually becoming the leader of the Royal College of Nursing, working for the betterment of her colleagues.

Does anyone seriously believe that she was in favour of murdering nurses, or anyone else, either then or now?

After the bombing, described by An Phoblacht at the time as a “monumental error”, support for Sinn Féin dropped like a stone. The party lost four of its eight seats on Fermanagh District Council in the local government elections two years later. Even Colonel Gaddafi stopped supplies of weapons and ammunition to the IRA.

Not surprisingly, the IRA’s subsequent apologies were treated with contempt, while then Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams’s apology got a similar response.

An IRA bomb killed 11 people in Enniskillen on Remembrance Day in 1987. File picture by Pacemaker
An IRA bomb killed 12 people in Enniskillen in 1987

It’s no surprise that the UUP challenger for the Fermanagh and South Tyrone seat, Diana Armstrong, should use the usual “Gotcha” moment of demanding ritual condemnation from Sinn Féin members for every historical atrocity carried out by the IRA. It’s why unionists say “Sinn Fein-IRA”.

Does anyone seriously believe that Pat Cullen was in favour of murdering nurses, or anyone else, either then or now?

Cue outrage from the usual suspects, including Emma Little-Pengelly, who called the response “disgraceful and disappointing”, even though she has herself insisted she shouldn’t be held accountable for her own father’s past.

Pat Cullen didn’t join Sinn Féin until the IRA’s “war” was over. She should not have to apologise for a past she played no part in. Nor should Ms Little-Pengelly.

They were indeed dark days. But for me, the only words about Enniskillen that had real meaning came from Gordon Wilson. He has never been bettered.


It’s not often that I agree with Colonel Tim Collins, whether it’s his solo run on leaving the European Court of Human Rights, his shock at the cost of insuring his Rolls-Royce, or his suggestion that nationalists are scroungers who will give up the notion of a united Ireland if they lose their benefits.

Bangor Marina in Northern Ireland
Bangor Marina (Liam McBurney/PA)

But his description of Bangor seafront as a “disgrace” is on the money. There’ve been plans to revamp Queen’s Parade since Methuselah was a schoolboy. Development work was supposed to start this summer, but it’s been delayed. So, for decades, it has remained an eyesore of derelict buildings looking onto a marina, where the view of the sea is dominated by a car park.

Walk down the nearby Main Street and you are greeted by an empty shopping centre and boarded up shops and cafes.

I have a soft spot for the town – and no, it isn’t a city, whatever its official status. In the 1960s and ‘70s it was a popular seaside resort where our family would enjoy our July bucket and spade holiday.

If you look at archive footage, the place was packed with visitors. Barry’s, which admittedly looked a bit shabby even then, was still a haven on a wet day. Where else would kids be able to enjoy puppet executions from around the world, including the French guillotine and the American electric chair?

Why has it taken 40 years to do the place up? See also Belfast’s North Street. Let’s hope Casement is a bit faster.