A survivor of the 1973 Coleraine bombing is calling for the resignation of the NI Ombudsman over the decision not to investigate remarks by a local Sinn Féin man who said he was “proud” of his IRA past.
David Gilmour was 10 years old when the first of two bombs exploded in Coleraine on June 12, 1973. He was sitting in the car with his mother at Railway Road, separated from the devastating blast by just one parked car.
Sean McGlinchey served 18 years in prison for his part in the bombing, which killed six people and injured dozens. He is now a councillor in the Causeway Coast and Glens Council for Sinn Féin. Speaking in the council chamber in Coleraine during a debate on Syrian refugees in September, Councillor McGlinchey said he was “proud” of his IRA past.
He was referred to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman for his remarks, but the Ombudsman’s office ruled last month that, after examining the remarks, Councillor McGlinchey should not be investigated.
Bomb survivor David Gilmour said he was “disappointed, if not devastated” by the decision and is calling for the Ombudsman to resign.
Recounting his experience of the bombing, Mr Gilmour said: “I was a 10-year-old boy. We were sitting outside a local dentists. I was in the car with my mother and my father was in a local photographer’s when the bomb actually went off. My mother and I were very fortunate that we did not sustain serious injuries because there was a car between us and the bomb car itself. My father sustained quite serious injuries, which affected his health until the day he died. The memories of those days - the bodies in the street, the smell, burning, is just horrendous. It is something that just never leaves you.”
Mr Gilmour also described his first reaction after hearing of Mr McGlinchey’s comments: “It was very hurtful. Personally I can’t understand how anybody can be proud of killing six people. I can’t understand that, it didn’t register with me. It brings back all the memories, all the hurt, all the upset. When I got out of the car the first person we spoke to when the news was put on at six o’clock was one of the people who was picked up, dead, off the streets. It is totally incomprehensible to my way of thinking.”
A report from the Ombudsman’s office states: “Interference in Councillor McGlinchey’s freedom of expression could not reasonably be considered ‘in pursuance of a legitimate aim’”. The report also refers to previous rulings made under the European Convention of Human Rights in terms of freedom of expression.
Reacting to the decision, Mr Gilmour said: “I am extremely disappointed, if not devastated, to read a report from someone like the Ombudsman who uses the Human Rights Act and freedom of speech to defend actions of Councillor McGlinchey. I don’t believe that is what the legislation is there for. I believe there were numerous breaches of the Councillor’s Code of Conduct. If that is what the Ombudsman thinks, perhaps he should take early retirement.”
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Ombudsman declined to comment.