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.
Round-table talks urged on healing the past
By Noel McAdam
New Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has been challenged to summon the Stormont parties together to hammer out a way forward on dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
Alliance has thrown down the gauntlet as the DUP and Sinn Fein continued to trade blows over the controversial issue which has been logjammed between Westminster and Stormont for years.
But agreeing to the move would mean Ms Villiers making a step change from her predecessor and agreeing to implement an Assembly request for round-table talks on ‘the past’.
Almost two months after taking over from Owen Paterson — who as the Belfast Telegraph revealed opened discussions on the issue earlier in the year — Ms Villiers is still holding her own meetings with the parties and appears determined, sources say, not to go back to “square one”.
Mr Paterson, however, opted for separate meetings with each of the parties, side-stepping an Assembly motion which urged him to call round-table talks.
But Alliance deputy leader and East Belfast MP Naomi Long said: “After the Alliance motion in the Assembly last October, calling for all-party talks to try to find agreement on how to deal with legacy issues, which was passed unanimously, Owen Paterson refused to do so and instead held a series of individual meetings.
“I hope the new Secretary of State will be willing to revisit the issue and grasp the opportunity to get people across the parties engaged constructively.”