PRESIDENT of Ireland Michael D Higgins has praised the parents of a young IRA bomb victim during his first official visit to Warrington today.
As he voiced his concerns about the very real threat of radicalism, he also spoke of how reconciliation could triumph over tragedy.
Among guests at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace Centre this morning were centre founders Colin and Wendy Parry - the parents of Tim Parry who was killed aged 12 alongside Johnathan Ball, 3, in an IRA bomb attack in the town on March 20, 1993.
Addressing the Parry family, the President reflected on the day 22 years ago when news of the “terrible atrocity” that left dozens injured reached Ireland.
“I remember the terrible sadness felt across these islands,” he said. “The loss of a child is the greatest of human tragedies, both in the grief and sadness that such a loss causes to his or her family, but also in the tragedy that the loss of potential and possibility constitutes.”
In the 15 minute-long speech, President Higgins also identified the radicalisation of young people as one of the most significant threats to society globally.
He warned that social isolation is one of the root causes to “inviting” people to turn to extremism.
“We know that those who are disenfranchised economically are vulnerable to the predations of the sponsors of extremism,” he said.
President Higgins outlined youth unemployment, inadequate social infrastructure and limited opportunity for participation as important issues that needed to be tackled.
An emotional video was also shown detailing the timeline of events of the Warrington bombings, of the injuries sustained to Tim Parry and of the family’s pain in coming to terms with their loss.
Mr Parry took to the stage where he spoke of the “dark day” that his family endured following the tragic loss of their young son.
He explained the lengthy journey that he and his wife embarked on in establishing the peace centre on the seventh anniversary of the bombing in 2000.
He praised the “friendship and kindness” of the Irish people for their continued support of the charity.
He also paid tribute to successive Irish Presidents, previously Mary McAleese, and now President Higgins, for promoting the centre’s work on peace and reconciliation.
In his opening address at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace Centre, President Higgins poignantly stated: “There are no anonymous victims. Each victim is someone’s brother, sister, mother or father.”
He also thanked the staff of both the foundation and the centre who sat among the 80-strong audience, among them Irish Ambassador for Britain Dan Mulhall and his wife Greta, for their warm welcome.
He then turned his focus to delivering a message of positivity to those affected by the tragedy.
“Reconciliation is a word that implies so much,” he said. “It is a word that conveys a sense of hope, courage, forgiveness and grace.
“It assumes a belief that, despite all the hurt, there can be a way forward where the violence and the conflict of the past do not dictate our present, or foreclose on the possibilities of our future.”
President Higgins’ visit to Warrington was his first official visit to the town.
This afternoon, he travels to Liverpool, which he last visited in November 2012, to receive an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Liverpool.
He will also deliver a speech at a graduation ceremony in the University’s Philharmonic Hall.
The visit will be rounded off with a celebratory dinner this evening for honorary graduates, which will also be attended by dignitaries and members of Liverpool’s Irish community.