Gerry Kelly's clarification on Troubles protagonists pathetic: UUP chief
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has described Sinn Fein claims that Britain was the main protagonist of the Troubles as "utter fantasy".
And he branded Gerry Kelly as "pathetic" after he attempted to justify his party's "indefensible claim".
The North Belfast MLA admitted yesterday that the IRA was also "a main protagonist" in the conflict.
The claim that the Government bore the greatest responsibility is contained in Sinn Fein's formal response to a public consultation on proposed mechanisms designed to address the toxic legacy of the Troubles.
Mr Kelly said: "They were the main protagonists, they are a government, they had 31,000 troops, they have a standing army of something like 150,000.
"So it is not unreasonable that they were the main protagonists, and certainly in terms of what was suffered within the nationalist population."
Mr Swann hit back.
He said: "The claims by Sinn Fein are utter fantasy. It is perverse.
"And Gerry Kelly's pathetic 'clarification' sums up the indefensible nature of Sinn Fein's outlandish claims.
"That is why it is vital that they are challenged over the propaganda which Sinn Fein pump out on an almost weekly basis as they desperately seek to grasp for equivalence between the lawful forces of the State and IRA terrorists, where it simply doesn't exist.
"What Gerry Kelly doesn't say is the UK Government is the lawful authority within the United Kingdom. Their authority comes from being elected by the British people. They have a seat at the UN and on the Security Council.
"They are signatories to international treaties. Like every other democratic nation, the United Kingdom has a standing army.
"When you consider the fate of the IRA's victims, who faced no court, no prison sentence with the prospect of release, and who were simply executed, it stands in stark contrast to the treatment of terrorists who were arrested, brought before courts, convicted, sentenced and ultimately released from prison, able to resume their lives.
"Sinn Fein should ask themselves how in 30 years, the police and such a large army were responsible for 10% of Troubles-related deaths yet the IRA for almost 60%, with loyalists being responsible for the other 30%."
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, convicted IRA bomber Mr Kelly admitted to a poor choice of words.
"It is reasonable for me and for republicans to say the British were the main protagonists," he said.
"But I'm also accepting that unionists, political unionism or British soldiers or whoever wants to say that the IRA were the main protagonist... I have no difficulty with that because the IRA were a main protagonist."
He added: "I think in a way if it had said 'a' main instead of 'the' main protagonist then we may not be having this argument. I am not denying the IRA were a main protagonist as well."
Others have also said the party's claim did not stand up to scrutiny.
However, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill said it had engaged with victims from across the spectrum on its submission.
Of the 3,600 people killed during the Troubles, the IRA was responsible for more than 1,700 of the deaths. Around 370 killings were attributed to the security forces, though a number of families whose loved ones were murdered by loyalists allege the State colluded in those deaths.