Sinn Fein must accept that no one needed to die to “fix” the way Northern Ireland is governed, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said last night.
Challenging republicans over recent calls for an independent, international chair to broker a way forward on dealing with the legacy of the past, he stressed their “starting point” must be to acknowledge responsibility for the physical and mental pain they caused.
The former Victims Commissioner argued that buying into the republican version of reconciliation would mean the rewriting of history — and accepting an equivalence between terrorist murders and the actions of the security services.
“I cannot accept an equivalence between actions of the State and of terrorists,” the UUP chief told a meeting of victims and survivors of the Troubles.
Mr Nesbitt confirmed he has met Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney face-to face — after he spoke of the need for “uncomfortable conversations” on moves towards reconciliation — because he did not want to be accused of “failing to engage”.
But he said that Sinn Fein calls for an international independent process are a recipe for disaster.
“No local political party can lead a successful reconciliation process, but of all local parties, Sinn Fein are least well-placed,” Mr Nesbitt said.
“Gerry Adams was never in the IRA, he says. Well, why not? Did he reject them or did they turn him down? Martin McGuinness has admitted IRA membership, but never explained why he left,” Mr Nesbitt added.
But he also said Mr Kearney’s assertion that unionist complaints that they had not been able to hear the words of republicans over the sound of guns and bombs were right amounted to “an abject confession that the terrorist campaign was a failure”.
“Republicans need to have uncomfortable conversations with themselves first. Let me suggest this as a starting point.
“Admit that if there was something wrong with the way Northern Ireland used to be governed, no one needed to die, or be injured, to achieve the fix,” he added.
“Acknowledge your responsibility for the fact that many... suffer the consequences in physical and mental pain... and apologise for the actions, not just the consequences.”
There was no immediate response from Sinn Fein.
Story so far
Last month the First Minister warned that Sinn Fein's fear of the SDLP was “paralysing decisions in the Executive”. But a week later the Sinn Fein chairman accused the DUP leader of “talking out of both sides of his mouth”. The Secretary of State was urged to summon round-table talks on dealing with the past, but with no results.