Emer O'Kelly: Comrades continue to shame us
The selective deafness of Sinn Fein/IRA is breathtaking and it is also offensive to decent people
There was a church service during the week that meant a lot to a man called Charlie Butler. There was another service last Sunday, nothing to do with any church, an unveiling of a plaque. The two services had a grotesque common bond.
Charlie Butler attended the service in the West Kirk Presbyterian Church on the Shankill Road in Belfast, where 20 years ago last week his niece Evelyn Baird, her partner Michael Morrison, and their seven-year-old daughter Michelle were blown to pieces when an IRA bomb blew apart Frizell's fish shop. Six other innocent people were also blown from the face of the earth in that moment.
Charlie Butler was one of those who frantically scraped with his bare hands to try to find the dead and help the injured; the injured count was 57 innocent people. Mr Butler was digging, not knowing if there would be another explosion at any moment, and not knowing either that his niece and her little family were among the mangled bodies.
Rev David Clawson led the service in the Kirk on Wednesday, a tiny building full to overflowing, while hundreds gathered outside, and children from the local school walked from the church to the little memorial park to the dead where they left wreaths of flowers.
Only one person was commemorated in the other ceremony. He was the man responsible for the murders and mutilations of that terrible day. His name was Thomas Begley, and he was one of the two IRA men carrying the bomb. The other was a man called Sean Kelly. He survived the explosion and was present when a plaque to Begley was unveiled with great ceremony, commemorating him as having died on "active service" and adding that he is "always remembered by his many comrades and friends". One of those friends sits in Dail Eireann today. Gerry Adams carried Begley's coffin to its grave in 1993.
When it was announced that the plaque would be mounted and unveiled in Ardoyne around the anniversary of the outrage, Adams's colleague, the Northern Ireland Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly, said the bombing was "a terrible tragedy" and the
people of the Shankill would hold their own commemorations. Presumably he meant that he would not join them; nor did he. (I doubt he would have been welcome.) But he had words which drove vitriol into the sorrowful gaping wound of the injured and the families of the dead who were Begley's victims: "The family and friends of Thomas Begley will remember him with dignity and respect." And he added: "Thomas Begley was not responsible for the con-flict here; he lost his life as a result of the conflict he was born into."
On the contrary, Begley lost his life because of the bungling of his colleagues who made the bomb that killed him. He and his companion in deadly intent, Sean Kelly, carried the bomb into a shop filled with people queuing to buy fish. Begley lost his life because the bomb went off before he had time to complete his murderous task of planting it and getting away before it did its deadly work. It was always intended to murder people, just not IRA murderers.
But for Sinn Fein/IRA, the only tragedy was that their own murderer died, the coldblooded executioner hailed on the memorial plaque as having been on "active service" at the time.
Begley's father unveiled the plaque in his son's memory last week,although another son said a week earlier that the family had not been involved in planning the commemoration, and that they had not been involved in producing a flyer advertising it which repeated the claim of "active service".
And while a parent's grief at the death of a child is always seminal, some members of the Begley family have in the past expressed their opposition to the bombing, and also to their family member's role in the attack.
But the drip feed of Sinn Fein/IRA propaganda over the years has been insidious, and has allowed the terror campaign that destroyed a society and lost a generation to violence and bitterness that shows no sign of being reconciled, to become blurred into some kind of tragic "accident of history" rather than being remembered as the brutal subversive war of sectarian extermination and hatred that it was.
Few people now rise up and cry "Shame" when Adams, McGuinness and Gerry Kelly and their fellow subversives, former or current, dare to call their crimes "tragedies" as though their hands are personally clean of them. They have worn us down, it seems.
During the week, Gerry Adams had the crass impertinence to say "we all know the Shankill bombing inflicted awful hurt upon the people who were killed and those people who were injured ... so I'm very mindful that we have to deal with the past". The man, I repeat, who carried Begley's coffin.
We can be glad that nobody stoned Gerry Adams or his home after he spoke those words; we don't want to be part of a society which succumbs to mob violence. Perhaps dignified silence is the best approach to such contemptible self-serving, dishonest hypocrisy.
But it doesn't stop the gorge rising in our throats if individually we want not to be made ashamed of being Irish, if we want not to inhabit the same "turf" as Adams.
The selective deafness of Sinn Fein/IRA members remains breathtaking. They have offended every decent Irish man and woman, whether those decent people's allegiance is to the Union flag or the Tricolour, and who condemn violence perpetrated in the name of either flag. Sinn Fein/IRA, who claim to represent those who come from the nationalist tradition, have been told at every turn that they shamed and continue to shame the name of Ireland. But they have no shame.
Sean Kelly, who accompanied Begley on the death mission, stood bareheaded at the unveiling of the plaque to his companion in murder. Arrested after the attack in which he was injured, he was put on trial and sentenced to a total of nine life sentences. He was free last week because he was released after only six years under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.
We all know his name. But not so many people know the name Raymond Elliott. Now 70 years old, Mr Elliott has left Belfast every year before October 23, the anniversary of the Shankill bomb. He was in Frizell's fish shop moments after the bomb exploded. He helped in removing body parts, and received an award for his bravery.
As a result, he had to be committed to a secure mental hospital, haunted and devastated. He was locked up there for two months. But Raymond Elliott does not have the complacency of Sean Kelly. He is still haunted by what he saw that day in 1993.