UKIP leader Nigel Farage says he would treat Sinn Fein as a normal political party and people here must move towards abandoning the idea of prosecutions for Troubles-related atrocities.
In an interview with Sunday Life during his Northern Ireland election visit, Farage said that while the past couldn't be forgotten, we should consider drawing a line in the sand regarding violent acts committed by all players in the conflict.
His views dramatically clash with those of local UKIP politicians who see
Sinn Fein as political pariahs and strongly support prosecuting paramilitaries for past shootings and bombings.
Farage said: “Sinn Fein certainly aren't my cup of tea and I wouldn't vote for them. But if you are elected to an institution then there are often situations you have to deal with.
“They are now part of the political system as a normal political party. I had no direct family experience of suffering in the Troubles. Monstrous things happened on both sides.
“But the view of the rest of the UK is that difficult though it may be to accept people directly linked to the unpleasantness, it is right to move forward. I was in Northern Ireland on a business visit in the 1980s and yes, there are still problems now, but life is so much better than it was before.”
Farage believed the police had “good reason” to arrest Gerry Adams over the 1972 murder of Jean McConville and said he was “surprised” the Sinn Fein president wasn't charged.
The UKIP leader revealed he had met Adams at the 2009 Lisbon Treaty referendum count in Dublin Castle where they had both been on the same side, opposing the treaty.
“I nodded at him when I saw him. I wouldn't snub him but I don't think I'll be having a pint and a curry with him on a Friday night either,” Farage said.
“The past can never be forgotten but there comes a time to draw a line in the sand. Either everybody must be prosecuted for Troubles-related events or nobody must be prosecuted.
“I was disturbed when I heard Peter Hain saying the Paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday could now be arrested. I most definitely wouldn't want to see soldiers or police officers prosecuted.”
Farage said he was unsettled by increasingly regular demands for investigations into alleged state wrongdoing: “I think ‘crikey another inquiry' so maybe we reach a point where we have to say it's time to put the past behind us.”
The local UKIP strongly supports the permanent flying of the Union flag but when asked if he would join flag protests, Farage replied: “I wouldn't get involved in any protests or stunts.”
Farage declined to recommend that UKIP voters transfer to other unionist parties, saying who they gave their later preferences too was a matter of personal choice. He saw no reason why nationalists couldn't support the party “because what sovereignty would a united Ireland have if it was under the control of Brussels?”
Of UKIP's 22 council candidates, none are Catholic and only two are women. Farage said he “wasn't in the slightest embarrassed” about that but he would work for more equal representation in the future.
“In Britain, we were male dominated but now that's changing. We have plenty of young female candidates. We're a growing party and we will evolve at our own pace,” he said.