Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, marking the 20th anniversary of the Warrington bombs that killed two children, tonight said that “regrettably the past cannot be changed or undone”.
“Neither can the suffering, the hurt or the violence of the conflict be disowned by Republicans or any other party to the conflict,” he said.
He was delivering a lecture in the Warrington peace and reconciliation centre set up by Colin Parry to commemorate his son, Tim , and the other victim of the bombing, toddler Jonathan Ball.
He went on: “As a republican leader it would be hypocritical for me to seek to distance myself from the consequences of the armed struggle or the IRA’s role in it.”
Later, he said: “I was once in the IRA. I am now a peace builder. I don’t expect anyone to take me at my word. I expect them to take me by my deeds. I have spent 20 years building the peace,” he went on.
The invitation to speak in Warrington was made by Mr Parry during a meeting in Stormont earlier this year: “In fairness to him, he could have played for time, but he didn’t,” Mr Parry told The Irish Times.
The charity set up by Mr Parry had, he said, operated “from a spare bedroom,one vacated by Tim”, until it eventually received £1m from a US billionaire.
Mr Parry said he had spoken to the brother and sister of a young girl killed by the IRA in Birmingham in 1974, who sharply disagreed with his belief about speaking to everyone.
The Warrington killings had been “a turning point”, he said, prompting many people in the Republic to protest in the wake of the explosions to declare that “enough was enough”.
Praising Mr Parry and his wife, Wendy, Mr McGuinness said they had turned “their tragedy into a worthy and personal crusade for the greater good of humanity”.
The Warrington charity, he said, significantly contributed to the NI peace process, while keeping alive the victims’ innocence and the expectation of their lives, so tragically ended.
Mr McGuinness said his presence in Warrington was “very emotional” for him, just like his first visit to the Cheshire town had been in 2001 when he was “warmly welcomed”.
That first invitation from the Parrys and Jonathan Ball’s now deceased parents, Wilf Ball and Maire Comerford “had been a significant act of generosity, reconciliation and hope. It never ceases to amaze me how generous and compassionate many (families of victims) are despite their loss. I am also conscious that there are others who are unable to make that journey,” he said.