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Brokenshire is praised by PUP after Stormont meeting over the past

By Allan Preston

The PUP has praised the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire after a Stormont meeting last week.

In September the party raised concerns that loyalists were being ignored when it came to issues like ending paramilitarism and the legacy of the Troubles.

However, PUP Councillor John Kyle said he was "impressed" by Mr Brokenshire's determination "to address some of the thorny complex issues in regard to the past".

"In the 10 years that I've been involved in politics, I thought that was one of the best meetings we've ever had with a Secretary of State," he said.

"One is not always convinced the British Government is always that determined to address (our concerns) but I really thought he listened."

Councillor Kyle said that during the meeting Mr Brokenshire acknowledged that civic society, not just politicians, needed to have an input in legacy issues and recognised that loyalists had felt excluded so far.

He added: "At the end he said he was going off to consider the points we've raised and would like to meet with us in the new year to discuss it further."

In November, Mr Brokenshire said Northern Ireland had made "significant progress" since the Fresh Start Agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein was signed one year ago. The deal was intended to create a new beginning for power sharing and bring an end to paramilitary groups, but many criticised its failure to help victims and survivors of the Troubles.

Winston Irvine from the PUP said in September the Fresh Start agreement "excluded loyalists from the process" and was likely "to impede and sabotage any progress on how we engage and deal with the past".

Mr Brokenshire said the agreement had "addressed issues that threatened devolution itself. Much has been achieved. In the past year welfare reform legislation has passed through Westminster and Stormont and the first tranche of the available £0.5bn funding for shared and integrated education projects has been released," he said.

"A new Independent Reporting Commission on paramilitary groups will be in place before the end of the year. Political stability is vital in Northern Ireland. I know it is a great place to live, to work, to visit, to invest and do business, in no small part thanks to the firm foundations of Fresh Start, and the Stormont House Agreement before it." In an official statement following last week's meeting, the PUP said they hoped the Secretary of State now had "a sense of our commitment to reconciliation and the development of a healthy, non-sectarian, pluralist society."

It continued that loyalists took seriously the need "to sensitively address the legacy of the four decades of violent conflict which took place in Northern Ireland".

"We support mechanisms which respect the needs of victims and provide closure to those families who have suffered for too long. We would once again emphasise that only loyalism can deliver loyalism. Such legacy processes cannot be imposed from without; we are willing and ready to engage on legacy and should be active participants in shaping those processes."

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