19 March 2006

Former terrorist defends bombing on Holyrood visit

Sunday Herald

By Paul Hutcheon, Scottish Political Editor
19 March 2006

A former IRA terrorist who helped bomb the 1984 Tory conference has insisted that Conservative MPs were a “legitimate target” for assassination.

Sinn Fein activist Martina Anderson, who visited Holyrood last week to discuss devolution, said the Brighton conference attack was aimed at people who defended the occupation of Ireland. She also said the IRA’s armed struggle against British rule in Ulster had been “vindicated”.

Her comments were made in an interview to coincide with her trip to the Scottish parliament. She met MSPs on a two-day tour to talk about devolution and her party’s green paper on Irish unity.

But her trip attracted controversy because of her past links to republican terrorism. The so-called “beauty queen bomber” was jailed for life in 1985 for planning a terror spree in 12 seaside towns in England. She was also implicated in the IRA’s assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet during the 1984 Tory conference in Brighton.

The one-time Conservative leader escaped the blast, but five people were killed and 34 others injured.

But Anderson, who is Sinn Fein’s All Ireland co-ordinator, said she could offer an explanation for the attack.

“Brighton was a target for those people who were implementing British policy in Ireland. It was specifically targeted at those people who were implementing the occupation.”

She also said it would be wrong to divorce the Brighton bombing from the background of UK presence in Northern Ireland.

“I suppose … you would have preferred that those things didn’t have to happen. But none of the activities that the IRA has been involved in can be separated from the historical context from which they emerged.”

Asked if the attack on the Tory conference was legitimate, she said: “I can see why that would be a legitimate target. The conflict in Ireland at that time had been of such a magnitude.”

On whether the IRA’s armed struggle had been vindicated, she said: “Yes I do. I believe it was vindicated, born out of the Irish experience.”

Anderson also used the interview to call on Scots of Irish descent to get involved with the push towards a reunified Ireland.

“There’s a constitutional duty on the Irish government and people over here of Irish descent. We want the Irish diaspora abroad to be involved in the shaping of the new Ireland,” she said.

In particular, she said Sinn Fein had a message for people in the “urban belt” between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“A new Ireland would appear to be coming. You should at least put pressure on the Irish government to produce a green paper, to at least lend your support. That’s the message we would like to send out to the Irish communities across Scotland.”

She also said there should be a “sharpening” of the links between Sinn Fein and other independence parties, such as the SNP and SSP.

“We would like to enter into a debate and a discussion. Whether or not it leads to formalised links, or whether it is about a shared understanding, who knows what will come out of it?,” she said.

Lord Tebbit, whose wife Margaret was confined to a wheelchair following the Brighton bombing, said: “She clearly feels no repentance and no remorse. This is a clear and implied willingness to undertake the same acts again.”

But Independent MSP Margo MacDonald defended Anderson’s Holyrood visit. “She came here to discuss how to advance the peace process. It does us no harm to understand people’s points of view,” she said.

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