Friday 17 November 2017

I couldn't cope with seeing Sinn Fein's new politician on TV or radio... I'd be thinking all the time: your father killed my father

Jayne Olorunda's dad was killed by an IRA bomber whose daughter has been made a Sinn Fein MLA. Jayne tells Stephanie Bell this is the last straw and her family is now set to quit Northern Ireland

Harrowing life: Jayne Olorunda whose father Max Olorunda was killed in an IRA train bomb during the Troubles
Harrowing life: Jayne Olorunda whose father Max Olorunda was killed in an IRA train bomb during the Troubles
Happier times: Jayne’s extended family including her father Max Olorunda
Jayne at her book launch with her mother Gabrielle
Gabrielle and Max Olorunda

News that the daughter of the IRA man who killed her father is to take a seat for Sinn Fein in Stormont has left Belfast author and community worker Jayne Olorunda and her family determined to leave Northern Ireland.

The distraught 38-year-old says she couldn't bear to see new Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Orlaithi Flynn in the news now that she had been appointed by Sinn Fein to replace Jennifer McCann in the Colin area of west Belfast.

Jayne was only two when her Nigerian-born father Max Olorunda was killed by an IRA incendiary bomb which detonated prematurely in Dunmurry on a train travelling from Ballymena to Belfast in January 1980.

She says her mother Gabrielle (66) has never got over it and to this day suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Orlaithi Flynn's father Patrick Flynn was convicted of double manslaughter and possession of explosives for the attack.

In a heartbreaking interview, Jayne revealed how her family has also suffered years of racial hatred and had planned to leave Northern Ireland last month to try and escape the abuse.

When the move fell through they thought they might stay but now after learning of Flynn's appointment this week they are more determined than ever to start a new life in England.

Jayne says: "It was so strange because only two weeks ago we were discussing our failed move and saying if we didn't secure something else by the end of the year we would stay. We weren't happy but we needed to have some direction.

Orlaithi Flynn
Orlaithi Flynn

"On hearing the news about Sinn Fein's decision the rug was pulled from under my feet. I couldn't believe it. I then had to break the news to my mother and my sister. I knew they would be hurt and it really is the final nail in the coffin for us.

"We are all devastated. The daughter of the man who killed my dad would now be the MLA for west Belfast.

"This news would be difficult at the best of times and as a family who have tried to be forgiving we would have gotten over it, or at least adapted to it, but unfortunately this blow came before Christmas.

"Christmas has never been a good time for my family, it's so close to my father's anniversary, but I was hoping, just hoping, that this year we could make something of it.

"The fact that Sinn Féin decided to announce its decision when it did was to me disgusting. They know that this particular candidate had a profile associated with her father and also that her father's victims were still alive.

"As a party that claims to care about 'victims', it's clear that they care little, never have, and never will. Frankly they were insensitive and that hurts."

Jayne has two sisters, Alison (40), who lives in Belfast and Maxine (39), who lives in England.

She has spent most of her life working in the community and has also written a powerful book called Legacy which tells the story of how her family were plagued by racism, poverty and grief after the death of her father.

Her father Max (35), an accountant, had been visiting a client in Ballymena and was on the train when the IRA prematurely detonated a device on January 17, 1980.

The blast engulfed a carriage of the train killing her father, as well as 17-year-old Protestant student Mark Cochrane and one of the bombers, Kevin Delaney (26).

Five others were injured including the other bomber - 24-year-old Patrick Flynn - who was among the most seriously injured survivors.

After the blast, the IRA issued a statement acknowledging responsibility and apologising to those who were harmed claiming it was an 'accident' caused by the 'war situation'.

Patrick Flynn was tried at Belfast Crown Court for double manslaughter and possession of explosives after his recovery from his injuries.

Mr Justice Kelly sentenced Flynn to 10 years in prison for each count of manslaughter as well as seven years for the explosives offences, to be served concurrently.

Last night, Jayne said that she wished Orlaithi Flynn no ill will, but said she found it hard to accept that she was a member of Sinn Fein.

"No one can be held responsible for what their father did and I can't reiterate that enough, but my anger comes from the fact that she is a member of Sinn Fein," she says. "Sinn Fein is the political wing of the IRA and the IRA killed my father. The fact that she joined Sinn Fein doesn't suggest to me that there is any remorse felt.

"I always thought Mr Flynn was sorry for what he had done, that's what kept us going.

"I don't have a dad, but I know dads influence your life and steer you on your choice of career and the fact that his daughter is now a Sinn Fein MLA is very hard to take.

"If one had been brought up with someone truly apologetic, racked with guilt, then I believe they wouldn't follow the political party that is so closely associated with their father's actions.

"To have to hear her on the radio or see her on TV is something I couldn't cope with. I would be thinking all the time 'your father killed my father' and that would be too hard.

"My mum can't cope with it either. She said that she hadn't finished with her family, she always wanted a big family and that was taken away from her and yet Patrick Flynn came out of prison and had children and was able to get on with his life while my mum has never recovered."

As well as suffering from sectarianism, Jayne says she and her two sisters have also suffered racist abuse throughout their lives.

It was after a particularly frightening racist attack earlier this year in south Belfast that Jayne and her family decided to leave Northern Ireland.

Jayne was on her way home from work when she was surrounded by a mob brandishing a Nazi banner.

She was left so traumatised by the attack that she was too frightened to leave home and had to give up her job.

The family took the decision to move to England to try and escape the racist abuse but when a planned move last month fell through they had considered staying.

After this week's announcement by Sinn Fein, Jayne says that is no longer an option and she, her mum and sister hope to leave their home here by the end of January.

"We've had the worst of the hatred that Northern Ireland has to give - sectarian and racist - levelled at us and we just can't take any more," she says.

"We are a mixed race family and don't always blend in. Growing up we became used to stares and taunts, but that was all we had. Naively I thought that Northern Ireland seemed to be changing, more and more people of colour were coming in and we no longer stood out as much.

"Last year I learnt just how much of an issue people like me are to some. I unwittingly walked into a group of right wing thugs, who surrounded me, blocked me in with an SS banner and proceeded to terrify me.

"I was 'lucky' in that one of them recognised me and called the others off. I dread to think what the outcome would have been otherwise.

"That day changed my life; I will never be the same. I literally became a hermit. From being a social person I found I was too afraid to leave the house. It was as if all the racial abuse, comments and stares from all the years hit me at once and I believed everybody hated me.

"I was ashamed to walk down the street, I went nowhere alone. No matter what I knew to be true, my reaction was to tarnish everyone with the same brush.

"I am mum's carer and I knew I couldn't provide mum with the care she deserved if I fell to pieces. We then decided that we should leave Northern Ireland because I just felt I couldn't take even one more blow."

The family have been looking for a new home since March of last year in London, Birmingham, Nottingham or Manchester. They were due to move on November 25 and were packed up and ready to go, but it fell through at the last minute.

Jayne says it is not easy leaving her home and friends in Northern Ireland and they had reconsidered, but after Wednesday's announcement of Ms Flynn's appointment they are now going.

"I've always been impartial but this time that news has really done it for me and made me question the very nature of forgiveness," she says.

"Good luck to Ms Flynn I hope she has a long and successful career but my family and I don't want to watch it. This last year has been difficult. Sinn Fein's decision has not made us decide to leave, but it has reinforced the fact that we cannot stay.

"All my family want is peace. Racism and our status as victims has sadly meant we won't get it here. It is not easy for anyone to feel they have to get up and leave their home and all they are used to, but circumstances have dictated that we can't stay.

"I wish Ms Flynn the best and she is not to blame, I wish Northern Ireland the best too, but it just hasn't been kind to us and we are not prepared to stay and see what it delivers next."

Online Editors

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