A man left bereaved by the Omagh bomb has insisted no-one should offer “succour” to dissidents, after Sinn Fein demanded the release of a recently convicted paramilitary.
Sinn Fein said its national chairman Declan Kearney would attend a parole hearing for republican Tony Taylor on Tuesday, stating that his ongoing incarceration “brings the justice system into disrepute”.
Sinn Fein’s growing involvement with his release campaign comes despite repeated condemnations from the party of dissident republicans – with Martin McGuinness having labelled them “traitors to the island of Ireland” in 2009.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Adrian ‘Aden’ Gallagher was among 31 fatalities (including two unborn children) when dissidents bombed Omagh in 1998, said: “I think it’s a very worrying development. Because whatever condition the peace process is in at the moment, if you give any succour or comfort to people who are trying to take us back to the difficult past that we had, I think it’s very wrong.”
The 67-year-old Omagh man said it may send a message to dissidents that “there is some kind of support” for what they are doing.
He added “it doesn’t bode well for the future if Sinn Fein or any other political party would pander to the concerns of dissident republicans”.
With a general election pending, he said all parties will be “jostling to get a good position and try and find favour with the people that would naturally or normally support them”.
He added: “But I would say in the strongest possible terms: Do not under any circumstances get into bed with the dissidents.
“It was John F Kennedy [in 1961] who said: ‘When you try and ride on the back of the tiger, you usually end up inside it’.”
By this, Mr Gallagher said he meant that he feared Sinn Fein would be sucked into believing the “legitimacy” of the dissidents’ actions.
Taylor was sentenced to 18 years in jail in 1994 in relation to an explosion in Londonderry, but was freed under the Good Friday Agreement.
He was imprisoned again in 2011 while awaiting trial for having a semi-automatic rifle.
He eventually pleaded guilty to this in 2014 and was given three years in custody – but by that stage he had already spent about three years behind bars, and was soon out again.
In 2016, whilst still on licence, the secretary of state returned him to jail. The precise details behind this move have never been made clear.
Calls have grown for his release ever since, with Sinn Fein and SDLP councillors on Derry City and Strabane District Council and priest Father Paddy O’Kane among those backing the campaign.
The outcome of the parole hearing was not known at time of writing.