The Sinn Féin Chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Stephen McCann has said he “will continue to be a Chair for all” after a mass walk-out from the Council meeting last night.

Ulster Unionist, Democratic Unionist and SDLP Councillors left the chamber at the beginning of the meeting when unionist Councillors called on the Chairman to apologise for comments he made in an interview with The Impartial Reporter and he told them he would deal with it in ‘any other business’ at the end of the meeting.

During the interview with The Impartial Reporter which was published on July 6, Councillor McCann, from Trillick, was asked if he condemned the Enniskillen bomb which occurred 30 years ago this November. He said he would not “go down the road of condemning” the atrocity which killed 11 people and injured 63 people on one of the darkest days of the Troubles.

READ: Council Chairman Stephen McCann will not 'go down the road of condemning' Enniskillen bombing

He described it as “a dreadful day”.

He also said: “People in my community have suffered as well and you can get into this thing of do you condemn this and do you condemn that? We are talking about an incident that happened 30 years ago, albeit still very raw in people’s minds and all the rest.

“But how do you move forward? Do you dwell on the past? How do you bring this forward?”

He added: “But it was wrong and Sinn Fein came out at the time and said it was wrong. I am happy with that.”

Later in the interview, he said it was people like IRA member Seamus McElwaine – who was shot dead by the SAS as he and Sean Lynch prepared to ambush an army patrol near Rosslea – as “set[ting] the tone for a peaceful resolution to where we are going.”

His comments sparked controversy among the general public.

“You are putting a large section of the community off,” DUP Councillor Errol Thompson told the Chairman last night.

UUP Councillor Howard Thornton proposed that Councillor McCann “publicly and unreservedly apologise and retract your recent remarks” to The Impartial Reporter.

As Councillor McCann pounded his gavel, Councillor Thornton continued: “Eulogising a cross-border serial assassin as a super-hero and in not condemning the Enniskillen bomb, you have brought shame and disgrace to the office you hold and untold hurt to communities and victims you are meant to represent as Chairman of this Council.”

As the Chairman attempted to move the meeting on to the ‘apologies’ section, DUP Councillor Keith Elliott stated: “Under apologies, I’m going to ask you to apologise to the people of Enniskillen.”

When the Chairman refused to deal with the UUP proposal at that point in the meeting, UUP Councillor Robert Irvine said his party would leave the chamber. The DUP Councillors and the SDLP Councillors also left. The UUP Vice Chairman of FODC, Alex Baird also left the meeting.

Reading a prepared statement at the end of the meeting, Councillor McCann said: “I was invited to a ‘Meet the Chairman’ style interview. To me, I got the sense it would give me the opportunity to speak to the people of the district about my priorities for the year ahead.

“It soon became clear that it was anything but a ‘Meet the Chairman’ interview.

“I recognise that we do have a contested history and that there are different narratives on the past.

“I do acknowledge that there has been hurt and loss on all sides of the conflict and I do not want to diminish the sense of hurt and loss on any side.

“My focus and commitment for the future, as an Irish Republican and as an elected representative is to play my part in building a better society for all based on justice, peace and reconciliation.

“I want to take the opportunity to reaffirm that I will do my utmost to be impartial in my duties as Chairman going forward and I will continue to be a Chair for all.”