Former IRA commander Martin McGuinness said last night “his heart goes out” to people protesting outside a peace lecture he had been invited to give in a town bombed by the terror group.
Mr McGuinness, now Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, was invited to speak in Warrington by Colin Parry, who lost his 12-year-old son in a bombing of the town on 20 March, 1993.
Mr Parry, who has since set up a peace foundation in the name of his son, said while he has not forgiven the IRA, history was “littered” with terrorists who had become peacemakers. A band of 12 demonstrators stood outside the venue protesting at Mr McGuinness’ speech at the Tim Parry-Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.
Earlier, Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine, 18, was killed in the Birmingham pub bombings, compared Mr McGuinness’ talk on peace to “asking Myra Hindley to give a talk on child protection”.
Mr McGuinness said he “understood” the objections and described the path to peace as a “journey”.
“My heart goes out to them because they too are people that have suffered as a result of the conflict in the north of Ireland,” he said. “I fully appreciate there are other people who don’t feel able to make that journey. I would be the last to criticise them. My heart goes out to all victims of the conflict. I feel very compassionate to all of them. We need to be sorry for everything that happened with the people involved in the conflict.”
Asked specifically about the Warrington bombing, he added: “It’s absolutely shameful that two young boys lost their lives.”
Mr Parry said the peace foundation had an “open door” policy with their founding principle that all opinions should be welcomed in the pursuit of peace.
“I would hope that the people outside, rather than criticise us for that, would recognise that’s a different path but an honourable path,” he said.
Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, aged three, were killed when bombs planted in litter bins in the town’s main shopping area detonated shortly after midday on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
No warning was given and no-one has been prosecuted for the outrage which also left 56 people injured. Johnathan was in the town with his babysitter to buy a card for Mother’s Day when he was killed.
Tim, an Everton fan, had been shopping for football shorts when he caught the full force of the explosion. He died in his father’s arms five days later in hospital.
Outside the venue, one of the protesters was Brian Hambleton, 58, who dropped his sister Maxine off at the Birmingham pub blasted by IRA bombs on the evening of 21 November, 1974.
Mr Hambleton said: “I’m here for a reason and that reason is that man’s murky, violent past. He has to be answerable for his past before he goes forward with peace.”