A Sinn Fein mayor has been slammed by Unionists for a post on social media which made reference to an IRA Hunger Striker – who had been convicted of killing a young mother in a firebomb attack in Ballymena – as being “brave”.
The post by Sean Bateson, mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, said: ‘Remembering Óglach Thomas McElwee in Bellaghy on his 38th anniversary.
‘Oh gallant South Derry you are forever blessed. In the struggle for freedom you have given your best. There’s Hughes and there’s Bateson, Sheridan & Lee and inscribed with their names now brave Tom McElwee,’ the post said.
McElwee, from Bellaghy, was arrested after a premature explosion in an IRA attack in 1976 which cost him the sight of one eye.
When he died on hunger strike he was serving 20 years for a Ballymena incendiary bomb attack in which Yvonne Dunlop was killed in a clothes shop.
Later that same day, Sean McCrystal, was killed in Ballymena.
The Kilrea councillor’s comments have sparked anger from Unionists.
UUP leader Robin Swann, who is also a North Antrim Assembly Member, has called on the Mayor to resign as ‘First Citizen’.
Mr Swann said that the social media post was “another example of Sinn Fein mocking and disrespecting innocent victims”.
“He has proved he cannot be a Mayor for all the citizens of Causeway Coast and Glens and should step down from the post before he causes any more offence,” the North Antrim MLA said.
Mr Swann said that Thomas McElwee was “many things, but brave was not one of them”.
“We must never forget that Thomas McElwee got to choose the timing and manner of his death, Yvonne Dunlop, like the rest of the IRA’s victims, was given no choice,” the UUP leader said.
Bannside TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston labelled Mayor Bateson’s comments as “outrageous”.
He added: “Thomas McElwee was no hero. There was nothing brave or heroic about the actions which resulted in McElwee being in the Maze in the first place.
“I think there was a great deal more gallantly displayed by his victim, Yvonne Dunlop.
“Mrs Dunlop was a 26-year-old married mother-of-three who died when the IRA firebombed Alley Katz boutique in Bridge Street. Her nine-year-old son was able to escape the building because she shouted a warning after checking a shopping bag left by two girls and discovered a bomb. Sadly Yvonne Dunlop did not have a chance to get away before the firebomb exploded.
“During the Ballymena incident McElwee and three others were injured when another incendiary device exploded in their car. A list of targets was found in the car.
“Five years after the bombing the Dunlop children travelled to London to challenge Ken Livingstone’s contention that McElwee was “not a criminal but a man fighting for the freedom of his country”.
“It is outrageous that justification of the slaughter of a young mother in the streets of our town is still going on today.
“The rewriting of history while those who bravely faced down terror are subject to prosecution is causing huge anger within the Unionist community. Republicans demand respect while trampling over the victims of their bloody IRA. This is a large part of the reason why I continue to believe that Sinn Fein remain unfit for government.”
Cllr Bateson responded on social media, saying: “As a history teacher, a republican and mayor I am fully aware off the different perspectives with regards our past. There never will be a one size fits all narrative off our conflict which is hundreds of years of complexities.
“It is exactly this understanding which allows me to respect those that hold a Unionist and British interpretation. As a shared and post conflict society, they have every right to their perspective and to commemorate their dead.
“However, the same applies for myself. My interpretation is from a republican perspective. I attend and will continue to attend republican commemorations which honour and remember those men and women who I believe died in the cause for Irish Freedom. They are held with the utmost dignity and respect.
“The Good Friday Agreement itself enshrines this right to commemorate those who died in conflict. Thus, despite agendas from certain quarters, remembering your dead is not something that has to be justified.”