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Politicians must have honest conversation on Northern Ireland’s violent past: Dawn Purvis

The only loyalist representative in the Stormont Assembly has challenged politicians here to begin an “honest conversation” on dealing with Northern Ireland’s violent past.

Last week UDA ‘brigadier’ Jackie McDonald told this newspaper it was time to “draw a line in the sand and move on”.

Now Progressive Unionist Party leader Dawn Purvis is arguing that the focus should be on “organisational” not “individual” responsibility.

“Whether that is the police, the Army, the security services, the IRA, the UVF or the UDA, if they can meet the needs of individual victims by being open, upfront and honest about the circumstances surrounding particular incidents or deaths, then that may be one way of delivering organisational responsibility,” Ms Purvis said.

Last week McDonald said the Historical Enquiries Team should be shut down.

Ms Purvis stopped short of that, but raised questions about the current approach to dealing with the past. “What I see in terms of the pursuit of individual perpetrators is not the holistic way of how we need to deal with our past,” the East Belfast MLA said.

“Whether that perpetrator was a member of the security forces or a member of a paramilitary organisation, it’s divorcing that person from the context,” she said, adding that it was also letting others “off the hook”.

“We need to look at all the institutions and structures of society as well as those organisations that were responsible for the violence as a way of dealing with our past.

“I do question if the HET is the only way of meeting these needs — not only the needs of victims, but the wider needs of society trying to build peace and stability.

“The challenge for politicians is to look at the needs of both victims and society and come up with a mechanism that will address those needs.”

The Eames/Bradley report, including recommendations for a Legacy Commission with investigation and information recovery units, has, for now, been shelved. And Ms Purvis believes it’s up to Stormont politicians to design a process that will work.

“I think all our politicians need to sit down and have that honest conversation,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“If Sinn Fein and the DUP can sit down and come up with a framework for the devolution of policing and justice, or for a resolution around the issue of contentious parades, then they shouldn’t be afraid to sit down and discuss how they design a process that meets the needs of victims and also the needs of our society.

“This issue isn’t going away,” she added.

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