Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Time to heal festering sores, not create more

The republicans who organised the controversial demonstration in Castlederg in memory of two dead IRA men must be delighted that DUP councillor Ruth Patterson has taken the spotlight off them. The parade was viewed as deliberately provocative in a divided town, but Cllr Patterson's outrageous comments on social media and subsequent arrest has created a different storm.

The DUP is to be congratulated for its speedy condemnation from the outset of Mrs Patterson describing her comments as stupid and obnoxious. And senior party member Arlene Foster also spoke out strongly against the former Deputy Lord Mayor of Belfast. Those were the actions to be expected to one of the senior parties in government, but, subsequent comments from the party, directed at the PSNI, were unfortunate, to say the least.

They criticised the police for arresting Mrs Patterson in such a high-profile manner and tried the usual tactic of questioning why someone else, in this case Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein, had not been arrested after his recent attempt to stop a police Land Rover.

The police, quite rightly, are investigating the remarks made by the DUP councillor on her social media page. It is their duty to conduct the investigation in the manner they see fit and the issue should not be clouded by trying to draw comparisons to other events.

Instead the DUP should be concentrating on how it will deal with what it terms unacceptable behaviour by one of its members. Is there not a case for Mrs Patterson being suspended from the party while it conducts its own investigations in the same way that UUP member, Lord Laird, had the party whip voluntarily withdrawn after allegations that he was willing to carry out parliamentary work for payment from a lobbying firm?

Ultimately what this sad episode shows is that the past still has the power to cause offence and that parties are willing to use past hurt as a weapon.

Is it too much to expect parties to recognise their responsibility to heal past divisions, rather than create further festering sores? If this week is anything to go by, the answer probably is yes.

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