A FORMER IRA terrorist who helped bomb the Tory conference in Brighton is to meet MSPs this week to learn about devolution.

Martina Anderson, who served part of a life sentence for plotting a terror campaign in 12 English seaside resorts, will visit Holyrood on behalf of Sinn Fein.

The one-time "beauty queen bomber" plans to use her Scottish trip to get international support for a united Ireland.

Last night politicians slammed the visit. Lord Tebbit, whose wife Margaret was left paralysed by the Brighton bomb, compared Anderson with "al-Qaeda".

Tory MSP Phil Gallie said he was appalled that the "contemptible" Anderson was visiting the parliament.

The main purpose of the Sinn Fein trip is to promote their green paper on Irish unity. Party president Gerry Adams sent the publication to interest groups and MSPs recently and flagged up his colleague's trip to Scotland.

Anderson, the party's All Ireland co-ordinator, will use meetings with councillors and organisations from civic society to explain Sinn Fein's policies.

But she will also visit MSPs at Holyrood on Wednesday to talk about Ireland and to learn lessons about Scottish devolution. The trip has not been officially sanctioned by the parliament.

She intends to meet a cross-party selection of MSPs and hold one-to-one discussions with other members. She also plans to watch First Minister's questions on Thursday.

Sinn Fein's Scottish spokesman, Jim Slaven, said he thought the discussions would be constructive. "We are meeting people across the political spectrum in the parliament. This is the beginning of a long-term engagement with Scotland, " he said.

He added that Sinn Fein were interested in learning about the powers of the parliament, particularly on justice, that have yet to be devolved to the Northern Ireland assembly.

"It's a two-way process. Martina is coming over to talk to parties in Scotland about our view of what a united Ireland will look like. But also we will be listening to what people are saying about how devolution is working, " he said.

But Anderson's trip to Holyrood will prove hugely controversial because of her past connection to republican terrorism.

Recruited by the IRA as a teenager, she was convicted in 1985 of plotting a "bomb a day" terror campaign in London and 12 English holiday resorts.

Her most notorious involvement with terrorism was her part in the bombing of the Grand Hotel during the 1984 Conservative conference in Brighton.

The plot to kill the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher failed but the blast killed five people and injured 34 others. At Anderson's trial at the Old Bailey, when she was just 23, the judge told her: "You are a hard, cynical young woman."

Anderson spent 13 years in prison, and was the 200th prisoner to be released under the Good Friday Agreement. She has now renounced violence and instead tries to further her political goals through the ballot box.

However, Lord Tebbit said he did not believe she has changed. "These people should never have been released from prison. Life should have meant life. Put them in the same box as al-Qaeda, " he said. "Sinn Fein is the PR dept of the IRA - some are in PR, some are in bombs."

Tory MSP Phil Gallie said he was shocked that Anderson was planning a visit to Edinburgh.

"I don't think there's any place in the parliament for people who break democracy. She is a criminal. It amazes me how individuals such as this can be brought into Holyrood."

Independent MSP Brian Monteith also slammed Anderson's Holyrood trip:

"Just because someone has served their time doesn't mean we have to forget and forgive. I have had personal friends, who were true democrats, executed by the IRA. I see no upside for the parliament from this visit and am highly suspicious of Sinn Fein's motives and those involved in the meetings."

A parliament spokesman said MSPs are allowed to make their own arrangements for inviting guests to Holyrood.



Former IRA terrorist Martina Anderson, who helped bomb the Conservative Party's conference at Brighton's Grand Hotel in 1984, is to meet MSPs this week to learn about devolution.


Martina Anderson was given a life sentence in 1985 for plotting to bomb 12 English seaside resorts, but was released in 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.