Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Northern Ireland's past looms large again in five-hour debate

Assembly Members may have been debating a law for the future but – as always – the past loomed large.

While the Bill ostensibly concerned special advisers' employment rules, the focus inevitably drifted on to the bigger question of finding a way to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

During yesterday's five-hour Stormont debate, the DUP said the next stage for republicans in the peace process was to begin talking to the security forces.

Lord Morrow's suggestion followed Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' description of IRA killings as "murder".

And the SDLP's sole Executive Minister, Alex Attwood, described Mr Adams' remarks on an RTE TV programme three weeks ago as having "crossed a Rubicon".

In the interview with Miriam O'Callaghan, Mr Adams was asked whether killings carried out by republicans were murders.

Mr Adams appeared to agree, saying: "By definition, any killing of any human being by another human being is a murder, of course."

DUP chairman Lord Morrow said the "natural next step" for Sinn Fein "is to start talking to the security forces about those who committed those crimes" which would be "very positive" and give unionists more confidence in republican condemnation of "what happened in the past".

Jim Allister said: "The real test of the affirmation of Mr Adams or anyone else that something was wrong is what they are going to do about it. Are they going to help the police to solve that which was wrong?

"Or are they just playing with words to say that it was wrong?"

Mr Attwood added: "After 40 years of denial, the leader of a political party can now refer to 1,500 deaths as murder. Unless we have a comprehensive and ethical way of dealing with past – including the prosecutions that, in my view, should arise in respect of offences in the past – (we) will be letting down the victims and survivors who look for an ethical and comprehensive truth and accountability process."

Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin said his party actively supported a fully independent truth recovery process – but questioned where it would start.

"My view is that we might want to take a look at what happened in 1965, when a certain titled unionist politician met with members of the UVF and reinstated that organisation, which, within a year, was involved in a sectarian murder campaign," he said.

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