Sinn Fein scrap 'party' for John Downey as media swoops
Gerry Adams has given his full support to Hyde Park bombing suspect John Downey, saying he was "perfectly entitled" to a homecoming party in his honour.
But Sinn Fein cancelled a celebration for the suspected IRA bomber after British journalists descended on a pub where it had been due to be held last night.
Between 400 and 500 people were expected at the gathering, which was condemned as "ghoulish".
Mr Downey was forced to cancel a planned get-together in Termon, Co Donegal, after it attracted huge controversy for adding to the grief of families whose loved ones died in the Hyde Park massacre in 1982.
An Old Bailey judge stopped the case after it was revealed the British government had given Mr Downey a letter, saying that he wasn't on any 'wanted' list in Britain.
The revelation of the existence of letters given to suspected IRA fugitives, known as 'On-The-Runs' (OTRs), caused a crisis in Stormont.
Mr Downey denied any involvement in the Hyde Park bomb and Mr Adams said he had been "found guilty of nothing".
"He's come home and his neighbours, friends and family are perfectly entitled to welcome him back, to celebrate his release," he said.
"I think it's a sign of the man that he has tried to take the hurt and sensationalism out of this.
"John is very sensitive to the feelings of people who may have suffered during the conflict, to the families of victims."
Mr Adams said the letter of immunity received by the 62-year-old makes him an "innocent man" and cannot be rescinded.
He also said the letter has to be taken in the context in the overall peace process negotiations.
"What the letter says is that so-and-so is not wanted.
"If so-and-so isn't wanted, then that can't be changed. But the letter goes on to say that if some information emerges then we will deal with that," he said.
After defending the 'homecoming' event for 48 hours, the party did a dramatic U-turn yesterday morning when it issued a statement from Mr Downey accusing the press of attempting to turn it into a "media circus".
So many photographers and reporters were in the Termon area of Co Donegal, 12km from Letterkenny, that party chiefs decided to call it off.
Mr Downey is also understood to have received calls from former loyalist paramilitaries whom he has befriended through the peace process.
"It was rapidly turning into a farce," said one party source.
"John felt it shouldn't go ahead. He also spoke with loyalists who advised it would be seen as triumphalist no matter what happened."
In a statement issued by the party just before lunchtime yesterday, Downey insisted: "Some elements of the media are portraying the event planned for tonight as triumphalist and insulting to bereaved families.
"That was never what it was about," he said.
Among those invited to the event at the Lagoon bar was Pat Doherty, the Donegal man who is the MP for West Tyrone.
Doherty was furious with the arrest of close friend Downey and had privately warned he would walk away from the republican movement if the British reneged on the 'On-The-Runs' deal.
A similar dance was held at The Lagoon last summer to raise money to pay Mr Downey's legal fees.