RELATIVES and unionist politicians have reacted with anger over plans by republicans to stage a commemoration rally for the Shankill Road IRA bomber Thomas Begley.
Republicans plan to unveil a plaque near his Ardoyne home in north Belfast later this month on the 20th anniversary of the atrocity.
Begley, 22, killed himself and nine Protestants when a bomb he was carrying exploded prematurely at Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road in October 1993.
The intended target was a flat above where a meeting of the UDA/UFF in west Belfast was to have been held.
But unknown to the IRA bomb gang, the meeting was rescheduled at the last minute.
A second IRA man, Sean Kelly, who was with Begley at the time, was pulled from the rubble from the collapsed building.
He was later jailed for life, but released early as part of the terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
The getaway driver of a black taxi has never been charged.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams provoked widespread anger when he helped carry Begley’s tricolour-draped coffin at his funeral.
A man whose wife was killed in the 1993 Shankill bomb has said some families will be distraught at news of a commemoration for one of the bombers.
Alan McBride’s wife Sharon and his father-in-law John Frizell were among the victims.
He said he felt for victims’ families after hearing of the commemoration.
“Because of the fact that he was a notorious person who took nine lives on the Shankill Road you would very much feel for the families today,” Mr McBride said.
“The Shankill bomb, because it was a high-profile atrocity, it was always going to receive widespread media attention.
“Obviously families are going to hear about this and some of them are going to be distraught because while Thomas Begley is some mother’s son, he’s the person who took their loved ones’ lives away and they’re going to be filled with all sorts of grief and trauma.”
He said everyone had a right to remember their dead relatives, but it had to be done in a sensitive way.
“People will remember in the way they want to remember and I suppose all you can ask is that we establish a set of principles around not rubbing people’s noses in it,” he said.
Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly defended the commemoration. He said Mr Begley’s family wanted to remember him “in a quiet and dignified way”.
“Nobody involved in this is trying to glorify what happened or trying in any way to commemorate the Shankill bombing,” he said.
“They are there on the basis that this young man died in that same bombing and they want to remember him.”
Ulster Unionist councillor John Scott whose niece, Wilma McKee, died in the Shankill bombing said that commemorating Begley as a hero was “sickening”.
“I can understand that a family may want to remember a son, but this isn’t the way to do it, given his crimes,” he said.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said the commemoration would cause “unnecessary distress” to the relatives of those who died.
“Those who are organising this event are failing to respect and show sensitivity for victims and it is clear lessons have not been learnt from the Castlederg parade,” she said.
“I would urge those involved to reconsider their actions, particularly at a time when victims’ families will be reliving their loss at this anniversary and when there are already heightened tensions in the area.”
The commemoration event is being held on 20 October – three days before the 20th anniversary of the atrocity.
John Scott, whose niece Wilma McKee, 36, was among the dead said on Monday: “These people are sick. How they can they do this? It is unbelievable.”
Mrs McKee, who had recovered from cancer, had just left an adjoining fruit shop when she caught the full force of the blast as her husband Brian, and their two sons, Craig and Brian Jnr, waited in the family car for her return. She died the following day.
Mr Scott, an Ulster Unionist on Newtownabbey Borough Council, said he was astonished at the commemoration.
He added: “It’s an absolute disgrace. They give no thought for the families. There should be no commemoration either for Brian Robinson. It is wrong. It is wrong of both sides.
“People are hurt enough. Brian (McKee) and the boys have got on with their lives. They’ve never got into trouble. It’s the same with Wilma’s parents. They still go through hell, but you can imagine the hell they’ll be going through with this.
“People should be allowed to remember their dead, including the family of Thomas Begley. But do they have to come unto the streets to show it. Tensions are high enough. It is terrible and I don’t know where it’s going to end.”
Friends and former republican associates of Begley have defended the decision to go ahead with the commemoration on October 20.
The UVF hold a commemoration parade every year on the Shankill Road for Brian Robinson, 27, a gunman shot dead by an undercover female soldier.
He was gunned down just after he opened fire from the back of a speeding motorcycle and killed Paddy McKenna, 40, a Catholic in September 1989.
DUP North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said it was important the party declared where it stood on the issue, especially in the aftermath of a republican commemoration parade in Castlederg in August, which angered families of many victims killed by the IRA in that particular part of west Tyrone.
Mr Dodds said: “This was a man prepared to walk into a crowded fish shop and place a bomb with an 11 second fuse on the counter.
“It was a cold blooded choice which would inevitably take the lives of innocent people.
“His actions are not to be celebrated but should be a source of shame. There is no place in Northern Ireland for the glorification of killers such as Thomas Begley.”