Martin McGuinness said “his heart goes out” to protestors at a peace lecture he is to give in a town bombed by the terror group.
Mr McGuinness, now the North’s Deputy First Minister, was invited to speak tonight in Warrington by Colin Parry, who lost his 12-year-old son in the bombing of the town in 1993.
Mr Parry, who has since set up a peace foundation in the name of his son, said while he has not forgiven the IRA for the bombing, history was “littered” with terrorists who had now become peace-makers.
A small band of around 12 demonstrators stood outside the venue protesting at Mr McGuinness’ speech later at the Tim Parry – Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.
Earlier Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine, 18, was killed in the Birmingham pub bombings, compared Mr McGuinness’ giving a talk on peace to “asking Myra Hindley to give a talk on child protection.”
Mr McGuinness said he “understood” the objections and described the path to peace as a “journey.”
“My heart goes out to them because they too are people that have suffered as a result of the conflict in the north of Ireland,” he said.
“I fully appreciate that there are other people who don’t feel able to make that journey. I would be the last to criticise them.
“My heart goes out to all the victims of the conflict.
“I feel very compassionate to all of them. We need to be sorry for everything that happened with the people involved in the conflict.”
Asked specifically about the Warrington bombing, he added: “It’s absolutely shameful that two young boys lost their lives.”
Colin Parry said the peace foundation had an “open door” policy with their founding principle that all opinions from opposing sides of conflicts welcome in the pursuit of peace.
“I would hope that the people outside, rather than criticise us for that, would recognise that’s a different path but an honourable path,” he said.
Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball, aged three, were killed when bombs planted in litter bins in the town’s main shopping area were detonated shortly after midday on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
No warning was given and no one has been prosecuted for the outrage on March 20 1993, that left 56 people injured.
Johnathan was in the town with his babysitter to buy a card for Mother’s Day, the next day, when he was killed.
Tim, an Everton fan, had been shopping for football shorts when he caught the full force of the explosion. He died in his father’s arms five days later in Liverpool’s Walton Hospital.
The death of the two boys sparked a public outcry in the UK and on both sides of the border in Ireland.
Mr Parry and Tim’s mother, Wendy Parry, have set up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, which has since become an internationally recognised centre for conflict resolution and victim support.