Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

We must repair the damage...

OF the 11,500 or so words that make up the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, there are two that stand out as a bright beacon, signalling the failure of devolved government to deliver for the people. Those words are 'mutual trust'. Trust is what is missing in the political mix, and the events of this week have driven the proverbial coach and horses through any short-term prospect of building trust that traditional enemies can work for the common good.

How could Sinn Fein think they are serving all the people by sitting through six months of the Haass process, and the two months of Party Leaders' meetings that have followed, without declaring the existence of the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' letters?

Possibly because they did the same thing in the Hillsborough talks in 2010, that led to the agreement to devolve policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Except, as we now know, some powers were held back in a grubby side-deal between Sinn Fein and the UK government.

As Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, I am glad my party did not support the Hillsborough Agreement. Stormont delivers too little for the people.

The story of the on-the-runs is one that illustrates how republicans were, and remain, willing to sacrifice all in the narrow interests of 200 or so friends and former colleagues in the Provisional IRA.

For the record, the Ulster Unionist Party accept OTRs were an issue that had to be dealt with. Our proposal was simple – a judicial process that would have allowed OTRs to be processed through the criminal justice system and if guilty, they could have applied for the early release under licence.

If republicans had agreed that, this issue would have been resolved a decade ago, and society could have moved on.

Huge bad faith has been demonstrated by Sinn Fein. They have killed off any prospect of agreement in the Party Leaders' meetings until the issues are resolved. The challenge, which we accept, is to find ways to repair the damage and finally build the mutual trust that will offer confidence and hope to all our people.

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