Up to 500 people are expected to attend a homecoming party for John Downey in Co Donegal.
The former Hyde Park bomb suspect is likely to be greeted by friends, family and senior Sinn Fein politicians including Gerry Kelly at a Donegal restaurant on Saturday. He was imprisoned for the last nine months while awaiting trial in England.
Critics branded the event a “ghoulish celebration” but a public representative said he was an “unassuming” man who should never have been arrested.
Kenny Donaldson, who represents 11,000 terrorism victims in Northern Ireland, said: “He will have a degree of folklore no doubt within the republican constituency. The victims are going to feel totally and absolutely disgusted.”
The social event is being held at the Lagoon restaurant in the village of Termon in Donegal’s north east. Previously fund raisers to help pay for his defence were staged there.
Among those attending will be Pat Doherty, a West Tyrone MP who does not take his seat but who played a key role in Sinn Fein’s rejection of legislation which would have given fugitives from justice an effective amnesty almost a decade ago.
Stormont government minister Mr Kelly is also likely to take part.
John McCafferty, speaking for the restaurant, confirmed 4-500 people were expected at the venue, which is more normally associated with weddings and birthday parties and known for its tasty sizzling steaks.
“It is good to see a bit of business, we accommodate all types,” Mr McCafferty said.
The family-run eatery and guesthouse is well-known locally. Donegal County independent councillor Michael McBride lives nearby.
“If you are a victim you will always want to see that justice is done but in this case the man has not been prosecuted,” he said.
But he added: “Many people have come home for different reasons and no great parties are thrown.”
Seamus O’Domhnaill, a Fianna Fail councillor who knows Mr Downey well, said that after he was arrested last May the council unanimously supported a motion seeking his immediate release.
“We would welcome the decision that he be released, given the fact that the proceeding document (judgement) produced ratified that he should never have been arrested.”
He said Mr Downey, an oyster farmer, was a very active member of the community.
“He was very unassuming and very involved in everything.”
Jim Allister is leader of the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) party which has one seat in Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly and opposes power-sharing with Sinn Fein.
“This ghoulish celebration will sicken people across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK,” he said.
“It is a telling reminder of the nature of Sinn Fein and their total insensitivity to victims and their unfitness for government.”
Pearse Doherty, a member of the Irish parliament who represents part of Donegal for Sinn Fein, said it was a free entry event being held to thank hundreds of people from across the county and further afield who helped raise funds for Mr Downey’s defence.