Sinn Féin councillor says criticism of IRA bomber commemoration is ‘nonsense’

Planned online event for Edward O’Brien, who died in ‘bus bomb’, was ‘shocking says ex-minister

File image of Edward O’Brien, who died in February 1996

File image of Edward O’Brien, who died in February 1996

 

The criticisms of a Sinn Féin-organised commemoration for a Wexford-born IRA man who died when his bomb blew up on a London bus, are a “total nonsense”, a Sinn Féin councillor has claimed

The 25th anniversary commemoration for the Gorey-born Ed O’Brien was due to go ahead on the Sinn Féin Wexford Facebook page on Thursday, but was cancelled.

O’Brien (21) died instantly when an improvised explosive device he was carrying detonated prematurely on the number 171 bus in Aldwych, in central London, on February 18th, 1996.

Eight other people were injured in the blast, including Irish man Brendan Woolhead, from Swords, Co Dublin who died eight months later.

The cancellation of the commemoration was announced on the Facebook page of Wexford Sinn Féin councillor Fionntán Ó Súilleabháin, who stated: “The Edward O’Brien online commemoration, which was organised by Ed’s father Miley and supported by Sinn Féin, has been cancelled at the request of thefamily, due to significant online abuse targeting the family.”

Cllr Ó Súilleabháin, a local primary school teacher, explained that the event had been cancelled because the O’Brien family had been subjected to the “vilest online abuse done by a local political gang”.

He told South East Radio that criticism of the event was “cheap political pointscoring” and “irrelevant nonsense”. Neither Sinn Féin nor the family had anything to apologise about and the online tribute to O’Brien was a “perfectly normal thing to do”.

Both Senator Gerard Craughwell and Wexford Senator Malcolm Byrne criticised the use of the term “Óglaigh na hÉireann” to describe O’Brien, stating that only members of the Defence Forces have the right to use that term. Senator Byrne has proposed that it be illegal for any organisation other than the defence forces to use that term.

Cllr Ó Súilleabháin said the phrase was a historical term going back to the foundation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.

Former minister for defence Paul Kehoe called on Sinn Féin to distance itself from the commemoration: “The revelation is further evidence of the party’s connections to the IRA, who were responsible for acts of terrorism, bloodshed and violence for decades.

“The leadership of Sinn Féin must exercise authority over their councillors and supporters, and the party must as a matter of urgency disassociate itself from this shameful commemoration and admit that what was carried out by Edward O’Brien was a violent crime.”

The Aldwych incident occurred nine days after a bombing at Canary Wharf which ended a 17-month IRA ceasefire. That bombing incident killed two people.

The IRA announced that it was halting the ceasefire because of British government demands that it unilaterally disarm.

No suspicion

O’Brien had known republican sympathies and used to sell An Phoblacht on the streets of Gorey, but his family had no suspicion he was involved in the IRA.

When he went to Britain in 1995, they thought he was working on a building site in Glasgow.

It was only when gardaí called to the family home after his death that his parents knew he was involved in the IRA.

The family later issued a statement through their solicitor unreservedly condemning all paramilitary organisations, adding that O’Brien had had no involvement in any illegal organisation while living in the family home.

“Neither they, nor any member of their extended family, have, or have ever had, any involvement of any description with any paramilitary grouping,” the statement said.

During an extended police search of O’Brien’s apartment in Lewisham, south London, police found what they described as a “considerable quantity of bomb-making equipment”, including Semtex, detonators and incendiary equipment, along with a 9mm Walther revolver.

Speaking at the time of O’Brien’s death, Gorey priest Fr Walter Forde told the IRA at the request of the family to stay away from the funeral and not to have any paramilitary paraphernalia there.

Deeply offensive’

Speaking in the Dáil on Thursday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar had described the planned commemoration as “deeply offensive” and called on Sinn Féin to disassociate itself from the event and to condemn the bomb incident.

Mr Varadkar said O’Brien’s family did not support the commemoration.

Raising the issue with Wexford Sinn Féin TD Johnny Mythen, when the latter had posed a question about Covid-19, Mr Varadkar said the proposed commemoration was “deeply offensive”.

Sinn Féin Waterford TD David Cullinane intervened and said “this is a disgraceful abuse of the House”.

When Mr Varadkar continued speaking on the issue the Leas-Cheann Comhairle thanked him but said she was moving on to the next issue and asked for his co-operation.

However, the Tánaiste continued, including saying: “I would call on Sinn Féin to disassociate itself from the commemoration, to call for it to be cancelled and to condemn the violent crime which this bus bomb was.”