Belfast Telegraph

McBride's debate challenge to Northern Ireland leaders

 

By Claire McNeilly

One of Northern Ireland's best-known Troubles victims is to challenge Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to a live TV debate as frustration over the political impasse grows.

Alan McBride, who lost his wife Sharon in the Shankill bomb 25 years ago, said his unusual invite to the DUP and Sinn Fein leaders has been brought about by the two biggest parties "talking themselves into a corner with their red lines".

And in a letter to Mrs Foster and Mrs O'Neill - which this newspaper can reveal today - the peace campaigner said he wanted to hear, first hand and on live television, what they are prepared to do "to make this country work".

"There is no need to bring a facilitator in from amongst the great and the good, just a televised interview with an ordinary guy who lost his wife in a bomb," he wrote.

"I now want to personally challenge you to do the right thing, to show some of the courage that your predecessors demonstrated and end this stalemate."

He added: "I have no interest in the blame game as I believe it to be disruptive and unproductive. The real issue keeping the DUP and Sinn Fein from sharing power is attitude.

"With the right attitude nothing is insurmountable.

"I don't need you to rehash the problems that you face as most of the country is weary with that debate. I need to see how you're going to fix it."

Mr McBride helps run the WAVE Trauma Centre, which supports people bereaved of a spouse as a result of violence in Northern Ireland.

He said he was inspired to write to the political leaders after the positive reaction to a blog he posted on October 23 - the 25th anniversary of the Shankill atrocity in which 10 people, including one of the bombers, were killed.

The victims also included Mr McBride's father-in-law Desmond Frizzell, who owned the fish shop destroyed in the blast.

"This has been brought about by a deep frustration on my part - that 25 years after Sharon's murder, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, despite all the problems we have overcome, it's 'identity politics', played out in the shape of an Irish Language Act, that is keeping the DUP and Sinn Fein from forming a government," he added.

"They have talked themselves into a corner with their red lines - and before the DUP self-righteously say 'we have no red lines', can I point out that to say 'no' to something is a red line in my book."

Secretary of State Karen Bradley last week accused Northern Ireland's main political parties of "grandstanding" after a brief, ill-tempered meeting chaired by her at Stormont was branded a "waste of time".

The meeting was not attended by either Mrs Foster or Mrs O'Neill, who will receive Mr McBride's written invite today.

"The kind of Northern Ireland I voted for in 1998 is still the kind of Northern Ireland I want to be part of in 2018," Mr McBride will tell them.

"But I need you guys to make it happen, and you can if you show genuine leadership instead of entrenched opposition.

"I want both of you to tell those of us who have to live together in this small place what does it mean to be a good neighbour in this society.

"What could you do for the 'other' that would make them feel welcome and their culture and traditions valued?

"This is the challenge that I want you to meet - for me, for the people of the Shankill, the people of Greysteel and for people all over Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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