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Hamilton enters a lion's den of former IRA enemies

By Rebecca Black

Published 07/08/2015

Republicans protest outside the Feile event last night where George Hamilton and Martin McGuinness discussed the Troubles
Republicans protest outside the Feile event last night where George Hamilton and Martin McGuinness discussed the Troubles

There he was, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, surrounded - almost unbelievably - by those once at the top of the police's most-wanted list.

George Hamilton has previously spoken emotionally about holding dying colleagues in his arms as the Troubles raged, and last night he found himself surrounded on all sides by those who may have murdered them.

It was an evening of firsts - the first time a serving Chief Constable had attended Feile and the first time that a Sinn Fein leader and a Chief Constable had shared a public platform in Northern Ireland.

But it was also an evening of challenges.

These challenges started as soon as Mr Hamilton travelled into the heart of republican west Belfast - once a no-go area for police - to arrive at St Mary's University College. He immediately faced hundreds of jeering anti-internment protesters.

They held aloft banners which could have been from the 1970s, which stated that no police - whether RUC or PSNI - were welcome, as they made their noisy stand, whistling and playing music.

Inside the packed venue as Mr Hamilton took his place at the front of the room, he faced a row of what must have been unnervingly familiar faces. IRA top brass from the Troubles were sitting right in front of him, just feet away.

Seamus Finucane placed himself in the front row, and close by was Eibhlin Glenholmes, once the most wanted woman in the UK.

Then positioned at the side - just at the edge of the Chief Constable's eyeline - were former IRA Army Council members Martin Lynch and Bobby Storey.

Storey has been named in the past as the IRA's director of intelligence - one of the most powerful positions in the republican movement.

And then sitting one person away was the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the self-confessed second in command of the IRA in Londonderry at the time of Bloody Sunday.

A flurry of smartphones photographing, tweeting, Facebooking and recording the whole event meant that every facial expression could be scrutinised.

Despite this, the Chief Constable immediately attempted to reach out, telling the audience he was sorry for the loss people had experienced, and that he accepts some don't want him there.

But then there came the questions.

One man challenged Mr Hamilton to disclose information on the UVF murder in 1974 of his brother. Mr Finucane quizzed him on truth recovery, while John Teggart demanded answers on the Ballymurphy massacre.

Justice campaigner and republican critic Mairia Cahill was also at the event but was not impressed.

She claimed that the event had been carefully stage-managed and controlled, with questioners selected, rather than the community being allowed to speak out.

Belfast Telegraph

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