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Beattie and Long pull out of Party Leaders’ Forum


Doug Beattie. Credit: Arthur Allison

Doug Beattie. Credit: Arthur Allison

Doug Beattie. Credit: Arthur Allison

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long are to pull out of a high-level Party Leaders’ Forum meeting scheduled for Monday.

The shock move comes as the parties are united in opposition to Secretary of State Brandon Lewis's proposals to block Troubles prosecutions through a statute of limitations.

The Forum is due to meet ahead of a recall of the Assembly on Tuesday to discuss the legacy proposals, which have also united victims groups in opposition.

However, Mr Beattie said he will not take part in any legacy discussions chaired by Sinn Fein president Mary-Lou McDonald, who is due to chair Monday’s meeting, while Ms Long accused Sinn Fein of undermining confidence in the Forum.

Mr Beattie said his party is "committed to doing everything possible to ensure that innocent victims retain the right to pursue justice for their loved ones".

"However, what I will not do in pursuit of that goal is give cover to Sinn Fein who are misrepresenting the role of the Party Leaders' Forum as a political prop. I will not be attending discussions on legacy chaired by Sinn Fein.

"It was Mary Lou McDonald who said that the IRA campaign was justified, without a thought for the thousands of victims created by the IRA terror machine.

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"As I said before, we need to widen the lens of discussions on legacy and that includes focusing in on the role of terrorist organisations, including the IRA, and those who supported them."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said Sinn Fein’s “spin” over the party Leaders Forum had undermined confidence, and had made her attendance “inappropriate”.

"The July meeting of the Party Leaders’ Forum was due to be chaired by Sinn Fein as a routine meeting, therefore it was surprising and disappointing to read the party spin it as their initiative and focused on legacy issues. This is misleading and unhelpful,” she said.

“By acting entirely outside of the accepted practice, they have undermined confidence in the confidentiality of the Forum.

“While the UK Government cannot act as an impartial chair on legacy discussions, neither can Sinn Fein, given the party’s continued defence of the actions of the republican movement during that period.

“The public framing of the meeting as a Sinn Fein legacy initiative has made my attendance inappropriate.”

Earlier, she also hit out on social media at the Sinn Fein move, accusing the party of “politicking” over Party Leaders’ Forum meeting.

“This is a complete over-reach by Sinn Fein and both provocative and counterproductive,” she said on social media.

“The Party Leaders meet monthly to discuss a whole range of issues and the chair rotates between the parties.

“This month is SF's "turn" but the agenda is set by all the leaders not the chair.

The Alliance leader said Ms McDonald had misrepresented what was to be a routine meeting of the party leader's Forum “ as a meeting convened by Sinn Fein for the sole purpose of legacy discussion.

“It is not and no-one confirmed attendance on that basis,” she said.

"Completely unhelpful politicking.”

A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: "The Party Leaders' Forum meets monthly, and has done so routinely since it was established," they said.

"The hosting and chairing rotates, and this month it is the turn of Sinn Fein. Mary Lou McDonald as President of Sinn Fein has notified the parties, invited issues for discussion on the agenda and she will chair the meeting.

"Sinn Fein have put legacy on the agenda given the huge hurt caused by the British Government to victims and survivors by their latest legacy proposals, which political leaders will want to discuss.

It’s understood SDLP leader Colum Eastwood will attend. The DUP were contacted, but did not respond by press time.

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