Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Powell's 'legalise IRA' call infuriates victims

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

Victims have reacted furiously after a former chief of staff to Tony Blair said the IRA should be legalised.

Jonathan Powell, the ex-Prime Minister's key aide in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, made the suggestion during a live television broadcast on Wednesday.

He told the BBC Nolan Show that paramilitary groups could become involved in preserving history and culture, adding: "If the IRA is there as a veterans' organisation, why does that matter? Why not legalise it?"

His remarks, which have been branded deeply insensitive, have also sparked anger and revulsion among those affected by IRA atrocities.

Stephen Gault - who lost his father in the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen on November 8, 1987 - said he was "totally disgusted" by Mr Powell's comments. He was standing beside his father Samuel (49) when the bomb exploded, killing 12 people and injuring 18.

The injuries Stephen, then 18, suffered that day mean he is in almost constant pain and is unable to work.

"The IRA was a terrorist organisation that murdered innocent people throughout 30 years of a terrorist campaign," he said.

"It is totally insulting to the victims of the IRA for Jonathan Powell to say that what they did in the past is OK and should be legalised now.

"He hasn't walked in the shoes of a victim.

"His comments show a blatant disregard for what people like me have gone through.

"This isn't the first time Powell has said things against innocent victims; in 1998 he more or less advised Tony Blair not to have an inquiry into the Enniskillen bomb, so it's just one thing after another with Powell."

The 46-year-old added that there was no justification for the former Blair aide to call for the IRA to be legalised.

"The word terrorist has to be kept in the loop. That's what they were," he said.

"They weren't freedom fighters. They were cold-blooded terrorists who murdered innocent people.

"It is most certainly preposterous to try and portray them as some old boys' club."

Loyalist victims campaigner Willie Frazer said Mr Powell's plan to legalise the IRA was "madness".

"Legalising them now justifies their past and that's exactly what the IRA wants because it allows them to rewrite history and ordinary people - albeit Catholic or Protestant - will be cannon fodder," he said.

"Not only am I completely against this, every one of the victims will be completely against it.

"It's unbelievable that Powell has the cheek to talk about that. He did enough harm releasing prisoners via the Good Friday Agreement.

"This shows total disrespect for law and order - not just IRA victims. If the IRA can rewrite history, it will justify their murderous campaign."

However, Alan McBride, who lost his wife Sharon, the mother of their two-year-old daughter, in the Shankill bombing on October 3, 1993, said he had no problem with the paramilitary organisation being legalised.

"If the IRA are no longer involved in criminality and murder and they're only ever now going to be an old boys' network, then I've no major difficulties with that," he said.

"There is an abhorrence of people getting together to have a few drinks and talk about the old days if that's their connection... this was a messy conflict in which lots of bad things happened.

"But if the IRA are no longer involved in those sorts of things, the question has to be asked why wouldn't it be legal if they are no longer doing things which are wrong?

"If I thought the future of these paramilitary organisations was along the lines of community development and old boys' networks, that's got to be better than what they were engaged in in the past."

He added: "If the IRA has left the stage, as claimed by Sinn Fein, I have no major difficulties with the actual legalisation aspect of it."

Belfast Telegraph


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