Manchester IRA bomb: Sinn Fein 'may apologise' for attack

Aftermath of the Manchester bomb Image copyright GMFRS
Image caption The 3,300lb bomb was the second biggest ever to explode on mainland Britain but no-one was killed in the explosion

Sinn Fein could apologise for the IRA bombing of Manchester - but only if the British government acknowledges its role in the Northern Ireland conflict.

More than 220 people were hurt in the 1996 attack which devastated the city centre causing £700m in damage.

On the 20th anniversary of the bombing, Sinn Fein's Pat Sheehan said all parties must become "accountable" and "that may mean an apology."

The UK government said it would "not be party to any re-write of history."

A spokeswoman added it would "not forget the fact that around 90% of all deaths in the Troubles were caused by terrorists. Legislation will also state there will be no amnesties".

Image caption Pat Sheehan, a former IRA prisoner who spent 55 days on hunger strike in 1981, replaced Gerry Adams in 2010 as the MLA for West Belfast

Mr Sheehan, a former IRA hunger striker and now Sinn Fein member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for West Belfast, suggested his party could apologise in the future.

"We need to get into a process where every party and every antagonist becomes accountable for their actions during the conflict," he said.

"That may mean an apology," he added. "But if the British government are playing hardball and the Republicans are seen to be moving forward, it doesn't help the process."

In 2002, the IRA issued an apology to its civilian IRA victims to mark the 30th anniversary of 'Bloody Friday' when nine people were killed and more than 130 injured in Belfast - but it has never given a direct apology for the Manchester bomb.

'Moved on'

Reconciliation becomes difficult if "one party moves ahead and other parties don't," Mr Sheehan said.

He said hatred had existed on all sides for many years but the British government had perpetrated injustices that "led to the conflict" and these needed to be dealt with.

"As much as possible, victims should be able to get the justice that they seek," he said but "unfortunately it isn't always going to be possible to get people in front of the courts."

A government spokeswoman said talks would "continue with a view to providing better outcomes for victims and survivors in Northern Ireland and across the UK".

"The Government is also clear that any new legacy legislation would establish investigatory bodies that are fair, equitable, balanced, proportionate and transparent."

Image copyright Gmfrs
Image caption No-one was killed but more than 200 people were injured

Manchester City Council is not marking the anniversary of the bombing because it says the city has "moved on".

No-one has been charged over the blast in which many people were hurt by flying glass and debris but thanks to a police operation the city centre was evacuated.

Greater Manchester Police recently launched another review of the evidence but speaking to North West Tonight, former council leader and Manchester Blackley and Broughton Labour MP Graham Stringer called it a "PR stunt".

"I think the Special Branch, Greater Manchester Police and the government know who did it," he said.

If the decision not to prosecute anyone was taken so as not to jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process the government should be "open and above board" about it.

GMP's Det Ch Supt Tony Mole said the case has "remained open and been kept under constant review".

He said a team of specialist officers carried out a more detailed review ahead of the 10th anniversary of the incident and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service, "concluded at the time there was no realistic possibility of prosecution".

He added: "As the 20th anniversary of the incident approaches, it is now the right time for another assessment of the case in order to identify and explore any possible potential investigative opportunities.

"If new information comes to light it would be considered and I would urge anyone with information relevant to the investigation to get in touch with police."

A group representing victims of the Northern Ireland conflict has criticised the city council's decision not to mark the anniversary saying those who have suffered as a result of IRA terrorism should always be remembered.

Kenny Donaldson, from Innocent Victims United, said: "The city council need to understand, who are they moving on for exactly?

"If the victims wish a space in order to reflect and remember what has happened then surely our own council should be supporting them in that," he said.

Image copyright Manchester Evening News
Image caption Baby Sam Hughes was injured on the day of the attack

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