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Historic night as old foes turn to debating

By Brian Rowan

A senior republican has described as “historic” a debate held in memory of John McMichael, the UDA leader killed by an IRA bomb 25 years ago.

Sean ‘Spike’ Murray — once one of the most senior leaders in the IRA — was speaking in a packed hall in Lisburn last night at the event entitled Reflections.

In the audience, prominent republicans such as Seanna Walsh, Harry Maguire and Jim Gibney sat not far from loyalist leaders including John Bunting, Jimmy Birch and Winston Irvine.

Also present were members of the Victims Forum and clergy.

A speech by Sinn Fein’s national chairman Declan Kearney at Westminster on Wednesday — containing stinging criticisms of the DUP — had formed part of the backdrop to the McMichael event.

But last night's panel brought Murray, another republican, Danny Morrison, and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson to the same top table.

The event was organised by the UDA-linked Ulster Political Research Group and the debate opened by loyalist leader Jackie McDonald.

He said the event demonstrated “that we can share space”.

Also on the panel was Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt, who described the significance of the debate as the fact that it had happened at all.

“Surely the lesson of the last 20 years in politics is that the only things that suc

ceed are based on dialogue and the exchange of views,” he said.

Among the issues raised was the Maze Peace Centre and fears that it could become an “IRA shrine”.

Sean Murray told the audience that republicans were not the only inhabitants of the jail, and that the peace centre should include “all perspectives”.

In response to a question from loyalist Adie Bird, Sean Murray assured the audience republicans would not be staging marches on the site.

Last night's debate in Lisburn was one of a number of events marking the 25th anniversary of the McMichael killing.

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