A Sinn Féin councillor has dismissed criticism of his party’s sponsoring of an event for an IRA man from Co Wexford who blew himself up with his own bomb in 1996.
After keeping silent on the controversy for days before the event was suddenly cancelled, Cllr Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin claimed that critics were offering “irrelevant historical nonsense”.
Social media material in his own name referred to “Vol. Edward O’Brien” and his membership of “Óglaigh na hÉireann,” which is the Irish language name of the Irish Defence Forces.
Cllr Ó Súilleabháin said the name Óglaigh na hÉireann went back to 1913. Yet it was “being brought up when a family are trying to remember their son”.
The Sinn Féin Wexford cumann organised the commemoration for Edward O’Brien on its own Facebook page for this week. He died, aged only 21, when a device he was ferrying exploded prematurely on a London bus in Aldwych in February 1996, injuring many others.
“The party helped the family organise a short online tribute to their son and brother,” Cllr Ó Súilleabháin told Alan Corcoran on South East Radio.
‘There is a family bereavement here. That's the first and foremost consideration. In a week when a family should have been allowed to remember their son or brother, I just found it so disappointing that they had to be subjected to the vilest online abuse, carried out in a very organised way and we'll say very targeted way,” the Sinn Féin councillor claimed.
“It wasn't random. It was done by a local political gang. Then we had the cheap political point-scoring not just from Senator [Gerard] Craughwell but from local Senator Malcolm Byrne.”
Senator Craughwell told the same programme that he objected to the name of the Defence Forces, of which he is a former member, being associated with “people who carry out indiscriminate violence” and it was Sinn Féin that was harking back to that recent past.
To see advertising from a county councillor for an IRA commemoration was “absolutely repugnant” and it was deeply disappointing that Sinn Féin did not come out with any statement before the event was cancelled, he said.
“Sinn Féin need to shed the Army Council,” Senator Craughwell said, adding that he expected the party to be in Government within a few years.
“Young people were indoctrinated by people who sat on bar stools or who were in the shadows and who never did anything themselves,” he said. He was very sad for the O’Brien family, he added.
But Cllr Ó Súilleabháin said: “We can't rewrite history. The IRA have gone nearly a quarter of a century ago.”
He suggested the controversy was a manufactured political distraction created by other parties. ‘People can see this for what it is.”
It came on the same day when Sinn Féin Finance spokesman Pearse Doherty was putting forward a Bill to protect citizens from getting fleeced by insurance cartels, he said. “And then we have this irrelevant historical nonsense being dragged up.”
Asked by Mr Corcoran if the party would park the past, he said the family “organised a small shared online tribute to their son, brother. That's a perfectly normal thing to do, perfectly understandable. There's nothing to apologise for there”.