Martin McGuinness, the one-time IRA commander turned government minister, today delivered a historic speech in the English town where his former colleagues planted bombs that killed two boys.
In Warrington, the Cheshire town where the boys died in 1993, he spoke of tragedy and the need for compromise, peace and reconciliation.
“As a republican leader it would be hypocritical for me to seek to distance myself from the consequences of armed struggle or the IRA’s role in it. Nor can or would I attempt to excuse the human loss caused by the IRA bomb in Warrington,” he said.
“There can be no greater tragedy in life than parents having to bury their child. The deaths of children as a result of the conflict is something that those of us who were engaged in armed organisations, be they British or Irish, have to accept responsibility for.”
Poignantly, he spoke in the Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation For Peace, the centre named after the two boys aged 12 and three who died in the IRA attack. He was speaking at the invitation of Tim’s father, Colin, who has devoted much of his life to building the centre into an international institution devoted to peace work.
The town itself has long ago extinguished physical signs of the bombing, but the centre serves as a memorial to the loss of the two innocent lives.
The McGuinness visit was not popular with everyone. Relatives of those killed in another IRA bombing, in Birmingham in 1974, protested at the event.
Julie Hambleton, who lost her sister in Birmingham, said it was inappropriate for him to be giving a talk on peace. She declared: “Him giving a talk on peace is a little bit like asking Myra Hindley to give a talk on child protection.”
In Belfast meanwhile, right-wing unionist politician Jim Allister accused republicans of rank hypocrisy, saying it was abhorrent for the media to give the Sinn Fein leader “a platform to spout meaningless platitudes”.
Colin Parry said, however, that most people had reacted positively to the event. He added: “I haven’t forgiven the IRA for killing Tim, nor has anybody in my family and we never will.
“But we don’t just talk to victims of terrorism, we also talk to people who have been associated with terrorist acts. In simple terms, you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends.”
He acknowledged that the speech was “an audacious event” but said he had issued the invitation in the spirit of peace-building and reconciliation.
The Parry family had already met the Sinn Fein figure, who is Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, and has been in regular contact with him. Mr Parry said he finds him “very civil and polite”.
Mr McGuinness will play an important part in the American peace initiative, which started in Belfast this week, and which will include talks involving local parties and other groups during the next new months. He said in his speech that those in the talks were “duty-bound to acknowledge and respect our differences and to compromise – there is no other way.”
He said the Parry and Ball families had been on a journey which involved much hurt and pain.
He added: “A few years ago, when I met with Colin and Wendy Parry in Warrington, the reception I received here was exceptional and yet humbling. It has had a lasting impact on me. It was symbolically as important as any of the other steps made in the peace process.”