A Sinn Fein mayor has been slammed for lauding an IRA terrorist convicted of killing a young mother in a firebomb attack.
Sean Bateson, mayor of the predominantly unionist Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, paid tribute to hunger striker Thomas McElwee on social media, hailing him as “brave”.
McElwee, from Bellaghy in Co Londonderry, was arrested after a premature explosion in an IRA attack in 1976 which cost him the sight of one eye.
When he died on hunger strike he was serving 20 years for a Ballymena incendiary bomb attack in which 26-year-old Yvonne Dunlop was burnt alive in her clothes shop.
On the anniversary of his death on Sunday, Mr Bateson posted pictures of a memorial service for McElwee in Bellaghy, tweeting: “Remembering Óglach Thomas McElwee in Bellaghy on his 38th anniversary.
“Oh gallant South Derry you are forever blessed. In the struggle for freedom you have given your best. There’s Hughes and there’s Bateson, Sheridan & Lee and inscribed with their names now brave Tom McElwee.”
Mr Bateson’s comments have sparked anger from unionists, with UUP leader Robin Swann calling for him to resign “before he causes any more offence”.
Ballymena TUV Councillor Timothy Gaston said: “Thomas McElwee was no hero. There was nothing brave or heroic about the actions which resulted in McElwee being in the Maze in the first place.
“I think there was a great deal more gallantry displayed by his victim, Yvonne Dunlop.
“Mrs Dunlop was a 26-year-old married mother-of-three who died when the IRA firebombed Alley Katz boutique in Bridge Street.
“Her nine-year-old son was able to escape the building because she shouted a warning after checking a shopping bag left by two girls and discovered a bomb. Sadly Yvonne Dunlop did not have a chance to get away before the firebomb exploded.”
Mr Gaston added: “The rewriting of history while those who bravely faced down terror are subject to prosecution is causing huge anger within the unionist community. Republicans demand respect while trampling over the victims of their bloody IRA.”
The News Letter attempted to contact Mr Bateson but without success.